The first conclusion I came to as I read Wendy Williams’ recently published “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” was we need a public inquiry. Once the COVID-19 pandemic has hopefully subsided I trust the UK government will agree to such an inquiry.
The African-Caribbean community in the UK and the West Indies needs to get on-the-record answers from those politicians and senior government officials on why its reckless immigration policies ruined so many innocent lives.
Williams’ report is savage. It reveals how the Windrush scandal came to a head as successive UK governments pushed their own sensationalist immigration policies without taken into account the consequences this may have on some UK citizens.
The report confirms that the Windrush scandal began long before the David Cameron-led Conservative/Liberal government came to office in 2010. But Cameron’s government exacerbated the problems with its hostile environment attitude.
The review team heard from some Windrush victims and their families on the impact that the Home Office’s incompetence took on them. The report confirms that many of the Windrush victims have not recovered from the harsh treatment they faced from the government.
“Joycelyn currently lives in sheltered housing in Watford…. She has one friend that she sees regularly, but says, overall, she has lost trust in people.”
The report also described a dysfunctional and toxic working culture across the Home Office. The list of bad practices highlighted there is endless. They include:
- Third-rate managing information systems,
- Inadequate records management systems,
- Poor policy making practices,
- Low staff morale was rife – “bullying, harassment and discrimination issues”
- Ineffective leadership,
- “Institutional ignorance” some immigration staff lacked knowledge of basic immigration and nationality law.
What Did They Tell the Review?
One Windrush victim told the review team
“I gave them all my National Insurance number which I’ve had since 16, I’m 58. I’ve given them my hospital number, it says 9th January 1964…so I did everything by the book…I had school letters, doctors’ letters, doctor’s registration letters…letters from other family members… the medical report alone should have been enough, surely.”
One family member of a Windrush victim said
“We even contacted HMRC and got a National Insurance contribution breakdown from 1976 to 2011. They said that wasn’t enough.”
One Home Office senior official surmised..
“They’ve (caseworkers) got massive responsibility. They’re making decisions about people’s lives…they’re not treated like they are very senior in the organisation, so they might not feel like they’ve got much autonomy. Can’t take a day off without asking your boss and yet you’re making a decision about whether this person can stay in the UK.”
A former minister told the Williams team on the “Go Home” van policy
““When you send vans round streets saying, ‘If you’re here illegally you’re going to go back’, and it’s communities that have been here for years that have settled, you create a tone and an atmosphere. I think that was part of the problem.”
Another senior official was quoted in the report as saying
“I think with [the] case working culture, what … I used to rail against was they never met a migrant and somehow lived in a kind of bubble where the most important thing was how many files you got through.”
No Names Named
The report did not call out anyone specific to blame for the Windrush debacle as that was not part of Williams’ remit. Shame.
There are clearly certain individuals to blame for the scandal and the ongoing organisational chaos within the Home Office. Chief among them to condemn are David Cameron and Theresa May.
Unlike the 6 Home Secretaries who preceded her in the post in the 2000s, May had 6 years (2010-2016) at the Home Office to transform the department into a competent organisation.
It was well known that the immigration section of the Home Office was like something from the dark ages. Yet May managed to elevate herself to prime minister by 2016 and you wonder why the UK is where it is today.
This immigration unit has morphed into something called the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS) and at the time of the report had just under 35000 staff.
Homer of Horrors
In May 2006, Labour MP John Reid, then Home Secretary, said of the immigration section at the Home Office..
“It’s inadequate in terms of its scope, it’s inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management systems and processes,”
By then Lin Homer was in charge if the Home Office’s immigration division (IND/UKBA). But Homer’s time there was dogged by incompetence and controversy. She was publicly rebuked by parliament for misleading them on a number of occasions.
In 2010 Homer had moved on from the Home Office to the Department of Transport. By 2012 Homer was astonishingly promoted to Chief Executive of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) said of the promotion..
“we are astounded that Ms Homer has been promoted to become chief executive and permanent secretary at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and can therefore have little confidence in her ability to lead HMRC at what is a challenging time for that organisation.”
Homer may not have been at the Home Office during the most of Theresa May’s hostile environment crusade but Homer’s tenure set the immigration department back years despite John Reid’s warnings in 2006.
HASC said of Homer’s time at the Home Office:
“It is shocking that after five years under Lin Homer’s leadership an organisation that was described at the beginning of the period as being ‘not fit for purpose’ should have improved its performance so little.”
Williams’ report confirms little has improved since 2006, 2010, 2016…
Public Inquiry – Who Should Be Summoned?
The inquiry should hear from the Windrush victims and their families. The inquiry should also invite legal and human rights representatives who have been fighting against these deportations.
But the inquiry should also hear from those enablers on the government side including:
- Former prime ministers incl. David Cameron and Theresa May.
- Former home secretaries incl. Jacqui Smith and Amber Rudd.
- Former immigration ministers such as Damian Green and James Brokenshire
- Former Home Office senior civil servants incl. Rob Whiteman, Phillip Rutnam, Mark Sedwill and Dame Lin Homer.
- Former Home Office advisers Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy.
The Wendy Williams team consulted over 800 individuals including formal interviews with 33 senior civil servants and politicians but the report did not disclose their names.
Did the review team interview Theresa May and David Cameron?
Annex H of the report is worth reading as it lays out the back story to the invasive and dumb Right to Rent scheme which turned landlords into proxy immigration officers.
Unsuitable Cabinet Ministers
One of the problems that affects the running of a major government department such as the Home Office is that some cabinet ministers have no prior experience of running a book club much less a SME organisation before their lofty appointment.
Take former Labour MP Jacqui Smith for example. Smith, a teacher by profession, became a MP in 1997 and by 2007 was appointed Home Secretary. Her time at the Home Office did not start or end well and Smith has since said on reflection..
“I didn’t necessarily understand the significance of the way in which you set up an organisation for delivering a set of objectives”
- I do hope members of the African-Caribbean community take the time to discuss the findings of this report.
- I also would suggest schools, universities, business schools and think tanks use this report as a case study in how not to run a public body in any century.
Despite Wendy Williams’ brutal report, it is unlikely that much will improve at the Home Office’s immigration division in the short term. We have been here before much too often.
We wait to see if the government accepts and implements all of Williams’ 30 recommendations. So to my African-Caribbean cousins…. continue to watch our backs.
One of the unfortunate aspects of this whole drama is that there are unsung heroes at the Home Office in professionally run teams; such as those looking after national security and policing/crime issues.
How those sections managed to achieve any relative success was to keep their heads down and ignore the incompetence further down the corridors and work in silos developing their own positive working culture.
But that kind of self-motivating approach can only go so far until it gets infested by inept leadership further up the chains. This leads to many of those progressive civil servants walking away in droves as happened between 2010-2012 when Theresa May closed her eyes and took a sledgehammer to the structure of the department.
Art Echoing Life
If the government chooses not to hold a public inquiry then the creative industry can fill that void and put forward their own interpretation of such an event in the form of plays or tv dramas.
Home Office tasked with putting fairness first after Windrush – Guardian
The Windrush Lessons Learned Review by Wendy Williams