The author of a comprehensive review into the Windrush scandal has queried the Home Office’s lack of ambition in acting to resolve the problems identified and said the slow handling of compensation claims was hard to justify.
Wendy Williams, author of a March review on “lessons learned” from the affair, also said Home Office officials should use less inflammatory language when referring to asylum seekers.
Ms Williams, a senior official at HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, gave the warnings on Wednesday before a session of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee considering the aftermath of the scandal.
Many immigrants who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1973 were deprived of jobs, housing and access to the NHS because officials wrongly believed they had no right to remain in the UK. Some were also forcibly removed from the country.
After the publication of Ms Williams’ report, Priti Patel, home secretary, apologised for the suffering of the thousands of immigrants from the Caribbean and other Commonwealth countries.
The Home Office is scheduled to only begin implementing the findings in a year’s time, the same time Ms Williams is due to review the department’s progress.
“I would have expected more ambition in that respect, so as to enable me to report on the effect of the change that the department has implemented,” Ms Williams said.
Ms Williams was also asked about victims’ complaints that the department was slow to settle compensation claims. Only 168 out of more than 1,500 applications received had been resolved by the end of August, according to official figures.
She answered that the scheme was a chance for the Home Office to show it was taking the issues involved seriously.
But she went on: “If 168 cases have been recognised, I struggle to see how the department can justify that.”
Ms Williams also warned about the department’s use of language following a Home Office video in August attacking “activist lawyers”. The Home Office accused them of using legal loopholes to “delay and disrupt” returns of asylum seekers to countries in the European Union through which they had passed. The department’s permanent secretary subsequently accepted the language had been unduly inflammatory and the video was deleted.
Ms Williams’ report had already recommended that the department develop a “learning culture,” including ending the use of insensitive language to describe people with whom it dealt.
She told the committee it was “absolutely essential” that the right language was used when talking about migration and that “neutral language” should be used given the contentious areas of public policy that the department handled.
Pressed by Yvette Cooper, the committee’s chair, as to whether she was criticising the use of language about asylum seekers, Ms Williams said: “The use of language and terminology must apply to the department’s functions, its general functions.”