The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has a legal duty to review government policies to ensure they are not racially discriminatory, and that they comply with equalities legislation.
In its latest damning report EHRC concluded that the Home Office broke equalities law when it introduced its hostile environment immigration measures. The EHRC study detected “a lack of commitment” within the Home Office to the importance of equality.
Negative consequences of the hostile environment were “repeatedly ignored, dismissed, or their severity disregarded”, the report found. “This happened particularly when they were seen as a barrier to implementing hostile environment policies in a highly politicised environment.” The department’s approach to its legal duty to ensure that its policies complied with equality legalisation was “perfunctory”, half-hearted, in other words.
It found that officials failed to appreciate the severity of the negative impacts of its policy on this group of people. Even when the damaging consequences of the hostile environment policies began to emerge, the department failed to engage with representatives of the Windrush generation.
The report found “there was a narrow focus on delivering the political commitment of reducing immigration, and a culture where equality was not seen as important. Identifying risks to equality was therefore not encouraged.” The EHRC detected an organisation-wide “lack of commitment, including by senior leadership, to the importance of equality and the Home Office’s obligations under the public sector equality duty. There was a misconception by some officials that immigration was exempt from all equalities legislation.”
A series of hostile environment policies were introduced by Theresa May from 2012 during a drive to bring down net migration; the measures made it harder for people without documentation proving their right to be in the UK to get jobs, rent properties, access healthcare and open bank accounts. Large numbers of people who had the right to live in the UK, but no documentation, were adversely affected by the policies. It was very politically charged environment; there was a very clear direction to reduce immigration. The Home Office did not comply with its obligations under the public sector equality policy.
Satbir Singh, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said campaigners had repeatedly warned the Home Office that hostile environment policies would lead to serious discrimination.
“Successive home secretaries ignored these warnings. Today’s landmark EHRC report confirms that this was not only dangerous, it was unlawful. The Home Office has for too long cared more about its reputation and its political objectives than the real-life consequences of its decisions on individuals.”
Halima Begum, director of the Runnymede Trust, said: “This latest report is yet more evidence of the discriminatory nature of the government’s hostile environment. The report’s findings are nothing short of a national scandal.”