The home secretary has promised a “full evaluation” of the hostile environment policy following the Windrush scandal.
Priti Patel told MPs that over £1.5m had been offered by the Windrush compensation scheme but added “this is just the beginning”.
She also announced mandatory training for Home Office staff, reconciliation events with the victims of the scandal and diverse shortlists for senior jobs.
Labour said the government was “falling woefully short”.
Ms Patel said her commitment to changing the Home Office was “fundamentally solid and firm” adding: “I have been on the receiving end of certain practices in the Home Office as well, which quite frankly speak to some of the points that came out of Wendy Williams’ review.”
The Windrush scandal saw people being detained or even removed from the UK despite having lived in the country for years.
The scandal prompted criticism of the government’s “hostile environment” measures introduced to tackle illegal immigration such as a ‘deport first, appeal later’ policy and tougher ‘right to work’ checks.
A report into the scandal by Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, accused the Home Office of demonstrating “ignorance and thoughtlessness”.
She made 30 recommendations and in June Ms Patel said she accepted the report in full.
‘An ugly stain’
Making a statement in the House of Commons, the home secretary told MPs the scandal was “an ugly stain on the face of our country and our Home Office” adding that her response had been “swift, strong and uncompromising”.
She said she wanted to ensure “sweeping reforms” to Home Office culture and would be “reviewing every aspect of how the department operates, its leadership, the culture, policies, practices and the way it views and treats all parts of the communities it serves”.
In her statement she announced:
- A series of reconciliation events to rebuild the relationship between the Home Office and those who were affected by the scandal
- Mandatory training for new and existing Home Office staff members “to ensure everyone working across the department understands and appreciates the history of migration and race across the country”
- A review of “compliant environment” measures, formally known as the “hostile environment”
- A “more diverse shortlists for senior jobs, specialist mentoring and sponsorship programmes to help develop a wider pool of talent and drive cultural change”.
Ms Patel said: “There are simply not enough individuals from black, Asian or minority ethnic staff working at the top in senior roles and there are far too many times where I am the only non-white face in the room.
“The injustices of Windrush did not happen because Home Office staff were bad people, but because staff themselves were caught up in a system where they did not feel they had the permission to bring personal judgement to bear,” she said.
She also announced that in September 2021, Ms Williams would revisit the Home Office to review its progress.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the Windrush scandal “must lead to real and lasting change”.
“Looking at the failure to act on so many previous reviews, the government is falling woefully short on that action and that’s why we will be holding them to account for delivering the vital changes outlined in this report and to act with the urgency that is required.”
Patrick Vernon, a Windrush campaigner, urged the government to speed up the payment of compensation to victims of the Windrush scandal.
He said Mrs Patel’s statement “paid lip service to this review, but does not respond to the urgency of the matter – several Windrush victims have already died without receiving compensation for the injustice they faced.”