As an MP, the Home Office is without doubt the most difficult and frustrating government department to deal with.
Almost every Member of Parliament, certainly those on the opposition benches, will have examples of constituency cases where unforgiving, hardline and often nonsensical decisions have lead to dreadful situations with families being separated and people who have lived and worked in the UK for years being told they must leave. While the Tories are in power, no government department will ever be acting in the interests of working people in the UK, but MPs can usually get a positive result for constituents when there is an obvious mistake or extenuating circumstances.
In my experience, the Home Office is the major exception, it has always seemed completely incapable of accepting responsibility for mistakes; has been unwilling to consider special circumstances; and is single-minded in pursuing the Government’s ‘hostile environment’ policy no matter the devastating impact it may have on the people involved.
After sustained pressure from MPs such as Diane Abbott, David Lammy and Yvette Cooper; Amber Rudd finally resigned on Sunday over her handling of the Windrush scandal. Thousands of people of who came to the UK as British Citizens from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971 have faced deportation, been refused reentry after leaving the UK, or have been denied basic rights such as access to a pension or the NHS. Many of those affected had traveled to the UK on a parent’s passport and cannot produce the burdensome paperwork demanded by the Government to prove their citizenship. Others had landing cards that were destroyed by Home Office before the Government made changes to the documentation required to work, rent property, and access benefits.
The result is thousands of people legally entitled to be in the UK, living in limbo with no settled status and no access to the rights enjoyed by other UK citizens. Unfortunately, to anyone who has ever had to deal with the Home Office, the treatment of the Windrush generation is shocking, but not entirely surprising.
Amber Rudd is guilty of incompetence and not having control over the Home Office but this mess was begun under a different Home Secretary and with Rudd gone, attention will rightly turn to the architect responsible for the hostile environment: the Prime Minister.
The Government has promised compensation and a fast track procedure to British citizenship, but the Home Office will continue to treat people unfairly unless we have a fundamental rethink of the policy that got us to this point. With Brexit on the horizon, EU migrants face an uncertain future and the Government must ensure that we learn lessons from the experience of the Windrush generation. But the broader issue is that, for too long, governments have pandered to right-wing misinformation about immigration in the UK. We urgently need an immigration policy that is informed by facts and honest debate, not rhetoric. Failure to do so risks damaging our economy and will leave us socially and culturally worse off as a nation