PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka defends the role of Home Office staff and criticises government immigration policies which have led directly to the Windrush scandal. This article originally appeared in The Guardian.
The escalating Windrush scandal has rightly caused national outrage. Reports of deportations, grandmothers holed up in detention centres and people losing the right to housing, healthcare and a decent living, mark a shameful chapter in this country’s treatment of people who were invited here to live and work.
From the inhumane attitude of the government towards Commonwealth citizens, to the revelation yesterday that Home Office staff themselves are subject to racism in their workplace, it is clear there needs to be a massive shift in how the government approaches the issue.
My union – the Public and Commercial Services Union – has been clear from the outset: we opposed the Immigration Act 2014, and many of our members were appalled at the “hostile environment” created by then home secretary Theresa May as she sought to make political capital out of the sensitive issue of immigration.
The “Go home” vans which stalked our streets showed there were no depths to which the government would not sink to sow division in our communities and demonise the most vulnerable.
Our members – many of whom work in the Home Office and the wider civil service – are dedicated, caring and conscientious. They have borne the brunt of cuts, pay restraint and increased workloads, due to the constant changes in government immigration policy.
And according to the civil service people survey, nearly one in four Border Force staff (24%) say they have suffered some form of discrimination. Other Home Office agencies have a similar problem, with one in five immigration enforcement personnel and 15% of employees at UK Visas and Immigration (which, rather ironically, handles claims for residency and asylum,) all saying they had suffered discrimination.
So it is perverse that ministers have repeatedly, since the scandal broke, sought to shift blame on to Home Office staff – people who do a difficult job trying to provide the best service possible, but who are not responsible for government policy.
The government thanked all staff for their “hard work and professionalism” in an email last week. But these words will ring hollow for many members when they see ministers seeking to wriggle out of their responsibilities.
Politicians have shown themselves to be past masters at shifting blame. First home secretary Amber Rudd then the prime minister both attempted to use the situation as a political football, rather than admit that their immigration policies have failed.
Even culture secretary Matt Hancock made a fool of himself on Sky News last week when he mistakenly referred to UK Border Agency (UKBA) as being “independent” in 2010. It was not – it was an “executive agency of the Home Office”. The government was ultimately responsible for all the decisions taken at the UKBA and they are responsible for this current crisis.
Ministers now attempting to assemble a hastily agreed taskforce to sort out the problem in just two months will put yet more pressure on an overstretched and underfunded workforce.
The public should be in no doubt that my union stands in solidarity with all those caught up in a crisis which was not of their own making. And we will defend resolutely the rights of our members to work in a well-resourced Home Office free from discrimination, while we push, as a union, for a humane immigration policy that respects people who decide to come to this country.