Written evidence submitted by Amnesty International UK [GEO0026]

 

 

 

 

The role of the GEO: embedding equalities across Government

February 2021

 

 

 

 

Amnesty International UK is a national section of a global movement. Collectively, our vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.  Our mission is to undertake research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of these rights. We are independent of any government, political ideology, economic interest or religion.

 

 

 

 

For further information contact:

 

Steve Valdez-Symonds

Programme Director – Refugee and Migrant Rights

steve.valdez-symonds@amnesty.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

              Introduction:

 

  1. Amnesty International UK (AIUK) is grateful for the opportunity to make this submission to the Committee. For reasons beyond our control, we are at this time only able to address the relation between the subject matter of the Committee’s inquiry and Home Office nationality, immigration and asylum functions.

 

  1. Our submission should not be taken as indicating we do not recognise or have equalities-related concerns in relation to other areas of public policy and Government responsibility. Nonetheless, we have certain particular concerns relating to the areas of policy and Government responsibility addressed in this submission, which we hope may assist the Committee.

 

Background

 

  1. The Government Equalities Office is responsible for “improving equality and reducing discrimination and disadvantage for all in the UK; improving people’s life chances at work, and in public and political life” and “taking the lead on the Equality Act 2010”; and sponsors the Equality and Human Rights Commission.[1] Accordingly, it is, amongst other things, responsible for evaluating:

 

  1. Against that background, we make the following submissions relating to the Home Office and its nationality, immigration and asylum functions.

 

Nationality, immigration and asylum

 

  1. Our primary concern is that these areas of law and policy have received little if any serious attention in relation to equalities for far too long. For example, significant Government or Government-commissioned inquiries or reviews into equality have overlooked these areas:

 

    1. The Race Disparity Audit, last revised in March 2018, considers several areas of discrete policy such as education, housing, criminal justice and health.[2] Nationality, immigration and asylum are not considered whether discretely or in relation to the policy areas that are considered. It is express that outcomes and experiences of people are considered only “according to their ethnic group, rather than their nationality, country of origin or national identity[3] and there is no attempt to consider the impact of the policy areas under consideration upon nationality, immigration and asylum matters or vice versa.

 

    1. The Lammy Revuew into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System similarly did not consider the impact of the criminal justice system upon the areas of nationality, immigration and asylum or vice versa.[4]

 

  1. This is a serious omission for several reasons including:

 

    1. According to a House of Commons Library briefing paper, there were 6.2 million people living in the UK in 2019 who did not have British nationality; and 9.5 million living in the UK in that year had been born abroad.[5]

 

    1. Nationality, immigration and asylum law and policy, and relevant Home Office functions, have significant impacts in and upon other areas of policy and vice versa. Indeed, that has dramatically expanded over more recent years by data-sharing and other measures that have made other areas of policy subservient including by making the delivery of public services an instrument of Home Office nationality and immigration policy and functions.[6]

 

    1. Moreover, the impact of this, including upon inequality, is shielded by statutory exemptions from various of the relevant duties and, even where such duties are not exempted, by depletion of the means by which people and those acting for or in their interests are able to challenge the injustices and harms that are done. For example, various exemptions from equalities duties are provided to the Home Office in its nationality and immigration functions;[7] and withdrawal or curtailment of legal aid[8] and appeal rights[9] in these areas significantly reduces people’s capacity to take action against injustice.

 

  1. When the then Home Secretary apologised for what had been exposed of the Windrush scandal in April 2018, she rightly identified as one systemic problem that the department did not have sight of the women, men and children affected by its policies, powers and functions.[10] The present Home Secretary has given emphatic assurances that the culture behind this will be changed and the Home Office made a place “that puts people first and sees the ‘face behind the case’” and ensures its policies and practices are built on an understanding of the experience of people whom these affect.[11] These assurances are not, however, being fulfilled and we must question whether there is real will or capacity to deliver upon them. A critical feature at the heart of this failure is an unwillingness or incapacity to understand inequality and act to correct it and avoid exacerbating it.

 

  1. As evidence of the foregoing, we invite the Committee to consider the following as examples:

 

    1. While the Domestic Abuse Bill has completed its Committee stage in the House of Lords, many migrant survivors of domestic abuse remain effectively excluded from protection now and in future because of various impacts of immigration law and policy.[12] For some of these survivors, this includes longstanding inconsistencies and omissions that render ineffective even the limited provision made within the immigration rules to provide opportunity for some survivors to secure their immigration status independently of their abuser.[13] The Home Secretary describes this as a “landmark Bill” and has emphasised the appalling extent and impact of domestic abuse in the UK.[14] How then is it possible that the experience of so many victims, whose vulnerability to this abuse is significantly aggravated by immigration policy, remains so much overlooked at the department?

 

    1. The current global pandemic was announced more than a year ago[15] and it is almost a year since the Government introduced its first lockdown.[16] With Migrant Voice, we have made several submissions to other Committees drawing attention to the inability or unwillingness of the Home Office to assess systematically and comprehensively its nationality, immigration and asylum policies, powers and functions. That assessment was and is required to understand and act upon the myriad ways by which these policies, powers and functions impair people’s capacity to adhere to guidance and rules on social distancing and self-isolation, to avoid public transport and to sustain and keep healthy themselves and their families.[17] There are too many examples to attempt to itemise this failure. However, it is reported that in proceedings before the High Court it has been revealed that the department chose not to follow the advice of Public Health England that Napier barracks was not suitable accommodation during the pandemic.[18] While we are not able to verify this, it is consistent with much else of which we are aware concerning both wider immigration policy and functions and the use of Napier barracks.

 

    1. Among the many findings of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review is that the Home Office misadvised the Windrush generation in the 1980s that there was no need or purpose to them registering as British citizens, which at the time was their statutory right.[19] Many British people settled in the UK, particularly black and Asian British people, thereby lost their rights to British citizenship and were left subject to immigration policy and powers. Over time, Home Office assurances that this would have no impact upon them were cruelly and emphatically shown to be false. It is of especially concern, therefore, that among the many lessons not learned by the Home Office is the error and injustice done by continuing to exclude people including people born in the UK – from their rights to register as British citizens; and in doing so asserting that the possibility of obtaining leave to remain is sufficient.[20]

 

Conclusion

 

  1. It is not within our capacity to attempt a comprehensive analysis for the Committee of inequality in relation to Home Office nationality, immigration and asylum functions. However, we consider it striking that the department has not, so far as we are aware, made one admission of racism as a motivating factor in what is now known of the Windrush scandal. As we have submitted to the Home Affairs Committee, we doubt that it is possible for the department to make meaningful cultural change or right the wrongs of that scandal if it either does not understand or cannot acknowledge the role of racism in the injustice and harm done.[21] There may well be, as we submitted to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review[22] and more recently to the Joint Committee on Human Rights,[23] a relation between that lack of understanding or inability and the specific exemption the department has long enjoyed from important aspects of equalities law in relation to race (and also certain other protected characteristics).

 

  1. In the circumstances, we consider there is urgent need for the Government to take steps to ensure equalities duties and aims are understood, respected and acted upon in the areas of nationality, immigration and asylum.

 

February 2020

 


[1] Taken from the ‘About us’ page for the Government Equalities Office at gov.uk accessed on 17 February 2021

[2] Race Disparity Audit: Summary findings from the ethnicity facts and figures website, October 2017 (revised March 2018), produced by the Cabinet Office; see: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/686071/Revised_RDA_report_March_2018.pdf

[3] Ibid, paragraph 2.2

[4] See: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/643001/lammy-review-final-report.pdf

[5] Migration Statistics, Briefing Paper No. CBP06077, 2 December 2020, p18; see: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn06077/#:~:text=In%20the%20year%20ending%20March,net%20migration%20figure%20of%20363%2C000.

[6] For example, in November 2012, the then Assistant Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, Mark Rowland, announced Operation Nexus, explaining that it would secure data to be shared with the then UK Borders Agency for the purpose of preventing people securing their British citizenship and enabling their deportation. The people to whom he was referring included children and young people born in the UK entitled to British citizenship and who without it face deportation to places they have never been. The Immigration Act 2014 has since expanded the reach of immigration policy newly or further into the areas of employment, housing, health and banking.

[7] Equality Act 2010, Schedule 3, Part 4 and Schedule 18, paragraph 2.

[8] The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 largely removed legal aid for non-asylum immigration matters.

[9] The Immigration Act 2014, Part 2 generally removed rights of appeal against immigration decisions that were not in response to asylum or human rights claims.

[10] Hansard HC, 16 April 2018 : Col 28 per Rt Hon Amber Rudd

[11] Home Secretary’s Foreword to The Response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review: A comprehensive improvement plan, CP 293, September 2020

[12] The impact of no recourse to public funds, the restrictive ambit of what is known as the domestic violence rule and the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession and data-sharing by the police and others have each been raised repeatedly through the passage thus far of the Bill but thus far secured no change.

[13] Amnesty International UK has over six months ago raised specific and then longstanding inconsistencies and omissions with relevant officials at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, yet these remain outstanding.

[14] Hansard HC, 28 April 2020 : Col 237 per Rt Hon Priti Patel

[15] The World Health Organisation announced a global health emergency on 30 January 2020.

[16] The Health Secretary introduced the Coronavirus Bill to the House describing the virus as “the most serious public health emergency that has faced the world in a century” on 23 March 2020 and, on 26 March 2020, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2000, SI 2020/350 took effect.

[17] Amnesty International UK and Migrant Voice have jointly made two submissions to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the Government’s response to Covid-19 and three submissions to the Home Affairs Committee inquiry into Home Office preparedness for Covid-19. These submissions draw attention to the need for such an assessment, the failure of the Home Office to provide it and consequences of that.

[18] See e.g. Napier Barracks ‘not suitable’ for asylum seekers during pandemic, BBC News, 16 February 2021

[19] Windrush Lessons Learned Review, HC 93, March 2020, pp12 & 59, see: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874022/6.5577_HO_Windrush_Lessons_Learned_Review_WEB_v2.pdf

[20] The Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens (PRCBC) and Amnesty International UK have consistently raised this with the Home Office. It is now also a feature of the Home Office EU Settlement Scheme, about which we have jointly warned Ministers and drawn the attention of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration for his outstanding inquiry.

[21] We have made two submissions concerning this to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Windrush Compensation scheme.

[22] See: https://www.amnesty.org.uk/files/Resources/AIUK%20to%20Home%20Office%20Windrush%20Lessons%20Learned%20Review.pdf

[23] See: https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/11496/pdf/