Britain’s human rights watchdog is reviewing the Home Office’s “hostile environment” immigration policy that led to the Windrush scandal.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is using its legal powers to assess whether, and how, the Home Office complied with its equality duties when devising policies that impacted the Windrush generation.
It will develop recommendations by September.
The watchdog highlighted the recent Black Lives Matter protests – following the killing of George Floyd in the US – and the impact of coronavirus on BAME communities for adding urgency to calls to end “systemic and entrenched race inequalities” in the UK.
The phrase “hostile environment” was notably used by former prime minister Theresa May during her six-year spell in charge of the Home Office to describe the government’s approach to dealing with illegal immigration.
It was blamed for immigration problems suffered by Caribbean migrants, some of whom were detained or deported despite having the right to live in Britain.
An independent report published in March, authored by Wendy Williams, found the Windrush scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable” and victims were let down by the Home Office’s “systemic operational failings”.
EHRC chair David Isaac said: “The Windrush scandal and hostile environment policies have cast a shadow across the UK and its values.
“We are working with the Home Office to determine what must change so that this shameful period of our history is not repeated.
“The impact of COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd by US police officers has resulted in urgent calls for action to end the systemic and entrenched race inequalities that exist in our country.
“The law requires that all public bodies must promote inclusivity and opportunity by considering the impact their policies have on ethnic minorities.
“We have long called for government to produce a comprehensive race equality strategy to tackle these injustices.
“This assessment and the Home Office’s response to the recommendations in Wendy Williams’s report will focus on the importance of Public Sector Equality Duty to put our country’s values on track.
“This work is part of our long-term strategy to tackle structural inequalities in Britain by ensuring public bodies use the PSED more effectively.
“In this 10th year of the Equality Act, we will work with government to put equality at the heart of its decision-making so that everyone has a fair chance to thrive.”
Labour’s shadow home secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: “This is a damning indictment of the Conservatives and their failing of the Windrush generation.
“It is an absolute scandal that the government allowed this situation to arise and unforgivable that it has failed to address quickly the deep hurt caused, including being so slow to process the compensation people are due.”
Fellow Labour MP David Lammy, who was among more than 80 MPs to refer the Home Office to the EHRC last year, said: “It is absolutely right that the EHRC has taken the unprecedented step of beginning legal action to review whether the Home Office broke equality laws in its appalling treatment of the Windrush generation.”
The Home Office said Priti Patel, the current home secretary, was determined to do all she could to “right the wrongs” endured by the Windrush generation.
“We are carefully considering the findings of the Windrush lessons learned review and will respond shortly to those important recommendations,” a spokesman said.
“We will also work with the EHRC on the review they have launched.”