Home Office processes led to wrongful detentions and deportations of members of the Windrush generation, says a National Audit Office report.
The department failed to heed warnings of unfair consequences for children of Commonwealth citizens, living and working in the UK, says the NAO.
“It failed to protect their rights to live, work and access services,” says NAO head Sir Amyas Morse.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has apologised.
But the official spending watchdog says the Home Office has still not established the full scale of the scandal.
What is the Windrush scandal?
An estimated 500,000 people now living in the UK who arrived between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries have been labelled the Windrush generation, a reference to a ship which brought workers to the UK in 1948.
They were granted indefinite leave to remain in 1971 but thousands were children travelling on their parents’ passports, without their own documents.
Changes to immigration law in 2012 meant those without documents were asked for evidence to continue working, access services or even to remain in the UK.
Some were held in detention or removed despite living in the country for decades, resulting in a furious backlash over their treatment.
The scandal prompted criticism of “hostile environment” measures introduced to tackle illegal immigration, now referred to by the government under the heading “compliant environment”.
Who has had problems?
The people affected include not only the Windrush arrivals from the Caribbean – but people who arrived from other parts of the Commonwealth during the same period.
Born to parents granted indefinite leave to remain, many never applied for their own travel documents and after decades living, working and being educated in the UK, believed they were British citizens.
The Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it and in 2010, landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants were destroyed by the Home Office.
What does the NAO report say?
Sir Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “The treatment of people who had a legitimate right to remain in the UK raises grave questions about how the Home Office discharged its duty of care towards people who were made vulnerable because of lack of documentation.
“It failed to protect their rights to live, work and access services in the UK, and many have suffered distress and material loss as a result. This was both predictable and forewarned.
“The department is taking steps to put things right for the Caribbean community but it has shown a surprising lack of urgency to identify other groups that may have been affected.”
The report says the Home Office:
- was aware of “credible information” about possible problems up to four years ago
- failed to sufficiently consider the risk of unfair consequences of the “hostile environment” policy
- ignored a 2016 recommendation to “cleanse” a database of individuals wrongly flagged as being in the UK illegally
- still does not know how many members of the Windrush generation have been wrongly affected by policies to target illegal migrants
- is showing “a lack of curiosity” about the effect on people who are not of Caribbean heritage
How many people have been affected?
The NAO found the Home Office had made some attempts to identify the numbers affected but has not established the full extent of the problems.
The report says, that so far, the department has:
- reviewed the cases of 11,800 individuals from the Caribbean
- identified 164 people removed or detained who might have been resident in the UK before 1973
- apologised to 18 people in whose cases it is likely to have acted wrongfully
- has no plans to review 160,000 files relating to non-Caribbean Commonwealth nationals
What does the Home Office say?
A Home Office spokesman said the Home Secretary Sajid Javid has issued a profound apology to the Windrush generation and is “absolutely determined to right the wrongs of the past”.
The spokesman added: “As the NAO’s report acknowledges, our taskforce has taken thousands of phone calls and helped over 2,400 people of any nationality prove their status in the UK.
“The majority of those helped by the taskforce are of Caribbean origin, but we have always been clear that it accepts applications under the Windrush scheme from people of any nationality who arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988 and are settled here.”
An independent “lessons learned” review has been set up and details of a compensation scheme for those affected will be outlined in the new year, said the spokesman.
How have other politicians reacted?
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott called the report “damning” and urged ministers to “finally take charge of this shambles, start treating all the Windrush generation fairly and legally and end the hostile environment, otherwise this scandal will only continue, and more injustices and scandals will inevitably follow.”
Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, added: “To have only apologised in 18 cases when clearly many more people may have been wrongfully detained or removed is far too sluggish a response to government failings which have had such a devastating impact on families’ lives.”