You will all have seen this week’s appalling revelations about the Windrush Children issue. We have been left reeling in horror at the shameful injustices inflicted on people this nation owes a debt of thanks. Our thoughts are very much with those unjustly deprived of their rights. Naturally we support the urgent efforts now so belatedly commencing for formal recognition of their rightful status in the UK. That cannot come quickly enough.
However it is important to be clear about what has happened here and specifically to tell you all that we will not stand for the scapegoating of our people on this. We are infuriated at the suggestion that our members in UKVI, Immigration Enforcement and Border Force are somehow responsible for this fiasco. These were the Home Secretary’s words in the House of Commons this week:
‘I am worried that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual’
The suggestion is that officials – our members – have in one way or another been too assiduous in applying Home Office policies. But Ministers direct policy and Civil Servants cannot pick and choose which of those policies they enact. Ministers are responsible for the consequences of their policy decisions.
These terrible cases have come to light due to the ‘hostile environment’ policies adopted by the Home Office, to deter illegal immigration. This approach relies on landlords, employers, teachers and other service providers to obtain proof that people are lawfully in the UK before providing any services to them, at risk of fines or even potential imprisonment if they fail to do so. Documentary evidence of citizenship or lawful immigration status is increasingly required for routine aspects of everyday life. And there’s no room for discretion in this. People have that documentary evidence or they’re left with nowhere else to go. Mistakes have been rife because, for example, a private landlord will err on the side of caution and rent their property elsewhere rather than take a chance. In November 2017 the Chief Inspector for Borders, David Bolt warned that reliance on private individuals and other service providers to “enforce” immigration law under the ‘hostile environment’ policy was creating issues for people lawfully resident in the UK.
As a direct consequence some ‘Windrush Children’, who arrived before formal status documentation was required and never since needed to obtain that, have lost their homes or jobs and seen their rights denied. Their recourse was to apply to the Home Office for confirmation of residency rights. Once upon a time, significant discretion could be exercised within that process. But these days there are strict criteria which have to be met and little, if any, discretion is routinely permitted. Indeed that’s discouraged in favour of a ‘tick box’ approach. So applicants were asked to provide huge volumes of documentation to demonstrate each year of their residency in the UK and, of course, many have not kept such detailed records going back 40 to 50 years….and so have found themselves in bureaucratic nightmares, abandoned by their own country.
This dreadful fiasco has happened because predictable risks within the ‘hostile environment’ policy were ignored despite warnings. And because discretion to deal sensitively with applications to formalise residency status was not prioritised as a matter of policy. This is nothing to do with the actions of our people in working to the Departmental policies they were duty bound to follow – they had no choice. It is everything to do with the manifest flaws of Home Office policies and those who lead should openly accept as much – this is the direct result of bad policy decisions and design from the top.
Home Office leaders talk continually about ‘Home Office Values’, urging the highest standards of conduct on us all and yet have allowed these terrible, immoral injustices to occur on their watch. The sheer hypocrisy takes the breath away. Trying to pass the buck and deflect blame onto our people at ground level is equally disgraceful and undermines their moral authority.
Our General Secretary, Lucy Moreton, has made a number of media appearances this week to rebut these wholly unjustified attacks on our members. We will continue to reinforce that message and have sought an urgent meeting with the Permanent Secretary to carry that message to the top of the Home Office.
We will update you further in due course.
ISU National Chair