This is why the damning Windrush scandal review has been buried under the coronavirus crisis - GulfToday

This is why the damning Windrush scandal review has been buried under the coronavirus crisis


Theresa May. File

Satbir Singh, The Independent

Experts and facts really matter. And, if the crisis currently gripping the nation has taught us anything, it’s that government works better for all of us when politicians listen to facts and reason, even (or perhaps especially) when the facts don’t tell a story the powerful want to hear. But Friday’s damning report of the Windrush Lessons Learned review, commissioned in the wake of the Windrush Scandal, lays bare the reality of a Home Office that’s hostile not only to migrants but to anybody who disagrees with it. If we’re to avoid another tragedy, this has to change.

For decades, governments of all colours have been warned that the political scapegoating and demonising of migrants and minorities and the use of ever-more hostile legislation to restrict our rights and freedoms would inevitably lead to tragedy. Communities, academics, journalists, campaigners – even judges and civil servants – have produced reams of evidence, sat on committees and met with MPs and ministers to beg for even a moment’s consideration for the mothers and fathers, friends and communities whose lives are shattered every time the despatch box is used to announce a new set of “measures” designed to punish us for political gain.

From the 1971 Immigration Act, introduced with the explicit goal of curtailing the rights of “coloured people”, to the passage of David Cameron and Theresa May’s twisted “hostile environment” laws in 2012 and 2014, there has been no shortage of effort from concerned groups and experts to try to work with government to do and be better. But our pleas and our offers have invariably fallen on deaf ears. Home secretaries and prime ministers have come and gone, but in the dark recesses of Whitehall and Tufton Street, the goal has always been the same: if you run the NHS into ruin or fail to build enough houses, you can always blame the migrants for everything, announce ever-more punitive laws and hope that a big enough wedge of focus-grouped marginal voters will hear the dog-whistles and join your witch-hunt.

This routine seemed so well-rehearsed by 2012 that, even in the face of strong opposition from other cabinet ministers, and stark warnings of the effects they would have on long-resident Commonwealth nationals, the Cameron-May government felt confident enough in the political calculus to push ahead with draconian laws conscripting landlords, doctors, nurses and teachers as the all-seeing eyes of their hostile environment.

As late as March 2018, I found myself face-to-face with ministers who insisted that Home Office policy was not to blame for elderly black Britons being denied cancer care and left to die. And in the days after we were forced to upstage the Commonwealth Summit in London in order to get the government’s attention, I left a meeting at No 10 aghast, having been asked by the prime minister’s staff to “issue a supportive statement” to “help fix public confidence in the Home Office” after a meeting with officials who still believed that death, detention and deportations were fundamentally a PR issue to be swept aside rather than a political or policy problem to be solved.

Two home secretaries later, little has changed. Most of the victims of the Windrush injustices are yet to receive compensation for their losses. As odd as it may sound, there are some important parallels between the findings of the Windrush Review and the pandemic we are currently staring down. It’s important to listen to experts, including those who disagree with you. It’s important to remember the human beings your decisions affect. And it’s important to be accountable. If the only feedback loop in the system is crisis, the system needs to be rebuilt.

After months of waiting for this report, many will question the government’s decision to publish it at a time when the nation is understandably distracted. But the need for root-and-branch reform of the way the Home Office works, the way it engages with those who disagree, and the way we think about immigration policy in this country will not go away. And, whether or not they succeed in burying this damning report under the Covid-19 crisis, building a Home Office that’s fit-for-purpose is not something the government can wash its hands of.

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