UK Home Office failing ‘to learn from its numerous mistakes’, say MPs

By on 21/09/2020
The PAC found that the Home Office relies on a “disturbingly weak” evidence base to access the impact of its immigration enforcement activity. (Photo courtesy Philafrenzy via Wikimedia Commons).

The UK Home Office has “little idea” of the impact of its Immigration Enforcement Directorate’s £400m (US$512m) annual spending and lacks an end-to-end understanding of the country’s immigration system, according to a highly critical report from the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The committee of MPs also noted its concern that the department “does not make decisions based on evidence”, too often relying on “anecdote, assumption and prejudice”. And a “significant lack of diversity” at senior levels narrows the department’s perspectives when establishing rules and assessing the human impact of its decisions, they said.

“The Home Office has frighteningly little grasp of the impact of its activities in managing immigration,” commented Meg Hillier, the PAC’s chair. “It shows no inclination to learn from its numerous mistakes across a swathe of immigration activities – even when it fully accepts that it has made serious errors.

For example, she said, “it accepts the wreckage that its ignorance and the culture it has fostered caused in the Windrush scandal – but the evidence we saw shows too little intent to change, and inspires no confidence that the next such scandal isn’t right around the corner.”

The Windrush scandal surfaced in 2017 after it emerged that hundreds of British citizens born in the Caribbean had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights because they couldn’t prove their status to the Home Office – which had previously destroyed the files recording their arrival in the country.

‘Disturbingly weak’ evidence base

The committee concluded that despite years of public debate and interest in immigration, the Home Office still does not know the size of the illegal population or have a clear grasp of the harm the illegal population causes; relies on a “disturbingly weak” evidence base to access the impact of its immigration enforcement activity; and is unprepared for the challenges the UK’s exit from the EU presents to its immigration enforcement operations.

The MPs said they are not convinced that the department is “sufficiently prepared” to safeguard the status of individuals while also implementing a new immigration system and managing its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among its recommendations, the PAC advised the department to undertake work to improve its understanding of the illegal population in the UK and the costs they create; develop a detailed improvement plan for its collection, use and analysis of data; and put in place mechanisms to challenge its own assumptions about the user experience within the immigration system.

It also recommended that the department record and assess how people move through the immigration system to understand where and how problems arise, and urgently develop a plan to mitigate the threat posed by Brexit to its work with EU partners.

“Fifteen years after the then Home Secretary declared the UK’s immigration system ‘not fit for purpose’, it is time for transformation of the Immigration Enforcement into a data-led organisation,” Hillier said. “Within six months of this report we expect a detailed plan, with set priorities and deadlines, for how the Home Office is going to make this transformation.”

A Home Office spokesperson said it used a “balanced” approach to maintain “a fair immigration system”, the BBC reported.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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