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16 April 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:39am

The problem with Generation Windrush goes further than any one minister

The problem here isn’t incompetence, it’s malice.

By Stephen Bush

Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, is facing calls to resign after revealing that some members of “Generation Windrush” – people who came to the United Kingdom as children in the 1950s and 1960s, and were granted indefinite leave to remain in 1971 but have no way of passing the Home Office’s new and more stringent tests – have already been deported.

Separately, the government is expected to announce – or rather, to re-announce as the initial announcement was made during recess – a new unit designed to prevent anyone from Generation Windrush falling foul of the government’s “hostile environment” policy.

The purpose of the hostile environment policy is to make life in the United Kingdom so cumbersome for immigrants that eventually, large numbers of them simply give up the ghost and voluntarily leave the United Kingdom. What that meant was compelling vast swathes of the state and the private sector – from the banks to the NHS – to seek proof that their employees and service users were legally here.

The reason why Generation Windrush has been caught up in growing numbers is that that generation of migrants are coming to the end of their working lives, and are, for one reason or another, coming into contact with the state in significant numbers. They are falling sick, retiring or seeking to move to accommodation that meets their needs as they become more frail. Because they were never told – nor could they have reasonably expected – that they would have to account for the past half-century of their working lives, they are unable to meet Home Office requirements.

There are a couple of important points to note here: the first is it is that what is not happening is ministerial or civil service incompetence, of the kind that would fairly merit the sacking of Nokes or other ministers. What is instead happening is government policy working as intended – but working on a group of immigrants who command public and parliamentary support.

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The second is that as far as the Conservative governments go, this is probably only the beginning of their hostile environment induced misery. It seems likely that the next age cohort of migrants – refugees fleeing Idi Amin – will likely fall foul of the  hostile environment as they, too, come into contact with the state as they age out of the workforce and seek medical attention in greater numbers. I see no reason why Britons of Ugandan Asian descent will be any less supported by the right-wing press than Generation Windrush have been.

And the third is that it is difficult to see what a workaround for Windrush immigrants means in practice: you either have a hostile environment for immigrants, or you don’t. (You can’t really have a rule where anyone black who looks old enough to have arrived here before 1971 is exempt – how would this be enforced? Or checked.)

What needs to change is the policy and direction of the government as a whole, not individual ministers, as opposed to a few ministers being held up as scapegoats and the future of British citizens coming into contact with the Home Office decided by how photogenic they are.