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Access denied - The human impact of the hostile environment - IPPR

The report was published on 04 September.  It was published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), written by Amreen Qureshi, Marley Morris and Lucy Mort. The report consists of 36 pages and can be read: here.

The hostile environment is a set of measures introduced over the years to make staying in the UK as difficult as possible for illegal migrants, and to therefore encourage them to voluntarily depart. Theresa May originally said ‘we’re going to give illegal migrants a really hostile reception’ in an interview with the Telegraph in 2012. 

The report assesses the impact of the hostile environment on individuals and communities.  In summary and perhaps unsurprisingly the IPPR finds that the hostile environment has had a negative impact on many areas, including financial affairs, the right to work and rent, and is discriminatory in nature.

“We find that the hostile environment has contributed to forcing many people into destitution, has helped to foster racism and discrimination, and has erroneously affected people with the legal right to live and work in the UK”.

The report does not accept that the hostile environment has worked in terms of immigration enforcement:  

“We also find little evidence that the ‘hostile environment’ approach to immigration enforcement is working on its own terms. According to the National Audit Office, the Home Office has no way of assessing the impact of the hostile environment on individual decisions to leave the UK. Our analysis of Home Office administrative data clearly indicates that the number of voluntary returns which were independent of Home Office involvement has fallen considerably since 2014, when some of the key hostile environment measures were introduced”.

Hostile Environment – Five Areas of Impact 

The report considers five policy areas, including: employment, housing, healthcare, welfare and policing, which have seen an impact. 

The increase in right to work checks means that people need security to avoid destitution. It forces migrants without status into the ‘shadow economy’.  The increase in workplace raids means people are less inclined to complain about their terms and conditions.  

The right to rent checks have led to discrimination:  “These checks illustrate how people can become mistakenly entangled in the hostile environment, particularly in the case of those from minority ethnic backgrounds. In a survey of just over 100 landlords carried out by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), it was found that 51 per cent stated that they are now less likely to consider letting to foreign nationals that originate from outside the EU (Patel 2017)”.

In healthcare people have received bills of thousands of pounds and are reluctant to seek care or help due to charges. In recent times the report identifies the policy as a threat to  ‘broader public health objectives, including efforts to contain the transmission of Covid-19’.

The lack of access to public funds has meant there is a risk of destitution, homelessness, exploitation and abuse.   The report reads: 

“In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, people without immigration status are at risk of further deprivation due to being unable to access welfare or work legally”.

Finally in policing, the ‘blurring of boundaries’ between policing and immigration enforcement has meant that other more serious crime, including trafficking, is not investigated. 

Wider Impact on Professionals and Those Lawfully Resident

The report identifies the wide-ranging impact: “The hostile environment has not simply had an impact on its target population – those living in the UK without an immigration status. In recent years, many with a lawful right to stay in the UK have erroneously been subjected to immigration enforcement practices. According to the Home Affairs Committee, “people with a lawful right to be in the UK [are] being caught up in the system, often via errors in the visa application process or problems with the data retained by the Home Office” (House of Commons 2018a). Typically, the people affected are those with a legal status who are nevertheless undocumented – that is, they do not have the documentation to be able to prove their status”.

There is a burden on those professionals, for example in the NHS, who are required to become involved in checks on patients for their right to access the NHS without charge.

Efficacy of the Hostile Environment

The report states: “While there is currently no robust way of determining a direct link between hostile environment measures and individual decisions to leave the UK, we are able to explore Home Office data on the number of voluntary returns over time……….This analysis therefore indicates that the government’s hostile environment agenda has not resulted in an overall upward trend in voluntary returns; indeed, the roll-out of the new policies coincided with a significant fall in voluntary returns”.

The Future

The report acknowledges that the Home Secretary has accepted all 30 recommendations of the Windrush Lessons Learned review in July and more recently a Commission of Race and Ethnic Disparities has been announced.  The report anticipates further reform and concludes it is very much needed:  

“However, there is a risk that the outcome of the current review of the hostile environment only leads to superficial changes to Home Office practice, rather than fundamental reform of the underlying legislation and policies. Our analysis suggests that the injustice and discrimination arising from the hostile environment is not simply due to poor implementation by officials. Instead, it relates to the core design of the hostile environment, which deters people from accessing essential services, targets all those without documentation regardless of their immigration status, and forces people into destitution without any evidence that this affects their immigration decisions. The only way to tackle this injustice is therefore through deep reform of existing policies. In our next report for this project, we will assess different approaches to changing the current system and set out the ways forward for ending the hostile environment”.

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