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2 May 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:38am

ID cards are a short-sighted, stupid, and counter-productive solution to the Windrush scandal

Like saying installing kindling on the ground floor of every home looks like a good way to tackle fire safety.

The government has through a sustained and deliberate series of policies caused delays to people’s NHS treatment, caused needless panic and suspicion when renting apartments, caused families to have to fight not to be split up, and even wrongly deported people who had been in the country – with every right to be here – for decades.

What we refer to in the media as the “Windrush scandal” is one part of a much wider policy to create a “hostile environment” for people in the country illegally, a policy which in practice creates a “hostile environment” for millions of Britons, and non-citizens here legally – overwhelmingly people of colour.

The bid to make it harder to live here illegally can only lead to the harassment of millions of people here legally, with ever-more requirements to hand over papers to prove who you are and why you’re here.

It’s just one in a decades-long – centuries-long – series of policies which open the gateway to the discrimination against people in Britain who don’t have white skin. In policy areas from stop and search, to trialling voter ID, to the care system, the state consistently gives people of colour less reason to trust it.

It is against this backdrop that people across the commentariat are – for what feels like perhaps the 300th time – suggesting that ID cards would have served as a solution to the Windrush saga. This is an idea so short-sighted, so stupid, and so counter-productive that it makes installing kindling on the ground floor of every home look like a good way to tackle fire safety.

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There is virtually no dataset to which the government has access which it has not then used to harass people in the name of controlling illegal immigration, even when doing so could prove hugely damaging to the wellbeing of the people concerned and to the public at large.

Perhaps the most obviously disastrous way this has been done is the use of NHS data by the Home Office, to track down people suspected of being in the country illegally. This has been reported for years, and is finally now drawing parliamentary scrutiny.

The principle of medical confidentiality is one central to the profession across the world. The dangers of dissuading people from seeking medical help for themselves or their children are significant – especially at a time when the UK is facing public health challenges such as tuberculosis, a potentially fatal illness, on UK soil. The communities most likely to be hit by such outbreaks are the ones whose trust in health professionals is most undermined by the use of “non-clinical” NHS data being used to deport people. And yet, despite being asked to halt the programme by parliament’s health committee, the data-sharing continues.

The “hostile environment” has brought in a “papers, please” culture – one supposedly alien to liberal-minded Britain – for millions of people already. Suggesting the introduction of ID cards as some way of tackling that is akin to handling the threat of Russian electoral interference by appointing Vladimir Putin as the UK’s next head of state: the logic of the argument appears to be that since authorities are over-zealously trying to chase people out of the country and demanding that they turn over lots of records to prove their right to be here, we should create an ID card for them to demand instead.

All of this leaves aside the practical problems with such a card: would they be introduced with more relaxed ID standards than what was being demanded of the Windrush generation?

In such a case you could quickly land yourself on the front pages through either a deliberate sting, or someone here illegally successfully obtaining an ID card. If the demands were as strict as was being asked of the Windrushers, then you are now just placing those same onerous ID requests on millions of people all at once, with at least the veiled threat of deportation hanging over them.

That’s before we start to consider the practicalities of creating a huge new biometric database at a time when the UK is already struggling to keep data secure, either from official mishaps or through deliberate hacking efforts. Once your biometric details leak, it’s pretty hard to replace them.

And all of that is before we start to think about the kind of country where you have to produce ID cards relentlessly to access services – a culture we have long tried to avoid, with only partial success.

But ultimately, this is about the Windrush generation, and the millions of other people with every right to be in the UK who wrongly face suspicion that they may be here improperly. Those families have been given little reason to trust the good faith and good offices of the British state. Asking them to now queue up to obtain ID Cards simply adds insult to grievous injury.

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