By Aisha Sembhi
On 30th September 2020, the Home Office released a plan in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review. Commissioned in 2018, the Windrush review was an effort to investigate the causes of the Windrush scandal, which saw several black individuals of Afro-Caribbean descent being deported to their countries of birth, despite legally residing in the UK for decades prior. Other victims were wrongly detained in UK immigration centres, lost their jobs, denied benefits, and made homeless.
The review concluded that a primary cause of the injustices was the failure of the Home Office to understand race and racism on an institutional level. With the release a Comprehensive Improvement Plan in response to this Review, current Home Secretary Priti Patel has an opportunity to rectify the failures of the previous government and ensure both compensation for victims and widespread reform of the Home Office’s approach to racism and xenophobia.
The Comprehensive Improvement Plan follows five themes designed to ensure a correction of the Home Office’s previous shortcomings: “Righting the Wrongs and Learning from the Past, Compassionate Approach, Robust and Inclusive Policymaking, Openness to Scrutiny and An Inclusive Workforce”. On the surface, the Plan looks promising – talk of reform on both an empathetic and practical level imply an authentic motivation to engage in positive and inclusive revision. In the foreword, Patel claims to pioneer “urgent change” and transform the Home Office with a “genuine cultural shift”. The plan itself is optimistic, assuring those campaigning for justice that “this time it is different” in Part Four of the document.
This apologetic tone is consistent throughout. The Home Office claims that, following the findings of the investigation, it “recognises [the Windrush scandal] as a historical series of events deeply embedded in current and past, structures, policies and cultures”. This, at least, personifies some growth from Theresa May’s establishment, which in its insistence that it was never the government’s intent to cause harm, failed to acknowledge the role racism and the culture of hostility played in the scandal. Previous efforts to remedy the fallout following the Windrush revelation, such as the founding of the Historical Cases Review Unit and the Windrush Compensation Scheme, are highlighted and should be recognised as the first steps in the right direction to achieving justice.
The Comprehensive Improvement Plan reiterates that the observations and recommendations following the Windrush Review are “not about the policy” regarding immigration, and simply comments on “behaviours and values” of the Home Office. Of course, the Home Office is not responsible or involved in the passage of legislation – this is entirely expected. However, once the Plan is put into the context of the current political climate, its insufficiency and the severity of its limitations are highlighted.
One of the key themes, “A Compassionate Approach”, has been totally disregarded by Home Secretary Patel’s recent campaign to halt immigration and asylumseeking, and the consistent antiimmigration rhetoric all too often endorsed by the Conservative Party. The Home Office has once again failed to work to rectify the damage caused by its “hostile environment” policy – apologies are of no value, and the founding of reviewing bodies and compensation schemes are yet to have had any worthwhile result. Even with these superficial developments, the promise of change remains an empty one, a perspective further consolidated when considering the current Home Office agenda and rhetoric regarding immigration.
The Home Office’s response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review is wholly inadequate, though entirely expected. Achieving true justice and ensuring a repetition of Windrush does not occur are both impossible if Priti Patel remains unwilling to abandon her staunch anti-migrant rhetoric, something emboldening an extreme and renewed zeitgeist depending on a culture of hostility. Without Patel’s co-operation, the Comprehensive Improvement Plan offers nothing of value, and an insult to the years of tireless campaigning.
Image: Global Justice Now via Flickr