The Home Office has drawn up immigration policies on “anecdote, assumption and prejudice” instead of relying on evidence, an influential parliamentary committee has concluded.
The public accounts committee said Priti Patel’s department was unaware of the damage caused by policy failures on “both the illegal and legitimate migrant populations”.
In a highly critical report published on Friday, the committee said in summary that Home Office’s officials had “no idea” what its £400m annual spending on immigration enforcement achieves.
“We are concerned that if the department does not make decisions based on evidence, it instead risks making them on anecdote, assumption and prejudice,” the cross-party committee concluded.
Meg Hillier, chair of the committee, said: “The Home Office has frighteningly little grasp of the impact of its activities in managing immigration. It shows no inclination to learn from its numerous mistakes across a swathe of immigration activities – even when it fully accepts that it has made serious errors.
“It accepts the wreckage that its ignorance and the culture it has fostered caused in the Windrush scandal – but the evidence we saw shows too little intent to change, and inspires no confidence that the next such scandal isn’t right around the corner.”
The committee was examining the role and function of Immigration Enforcement. This is the directorate within the department responsible for preventing abuse of the immigration system, in light of a critical National Audit Office report, which was released in June.
Officials were questioned by MPs about the department’s “compliant environment” policy, which limits access to work, housing, benefits and other government-funded services.
The report said that despite “years of public and political debate and concern”, the department still did not know the size of the illegal population in the UK.
The committee reiterated criticism by the NAO, saying the department had not estimated the illegal population in the UK since 2005 and had “no answer” to concerns that “potentially exaggerated figures calculated by others could inflame hostility towards immigrants”.
Some of the report examined the legacy of the Windrush scandal, and concluded that the internal culture that created the hostile environment still remains.
The Home Office does not know whether hostile environment policies deterred illegal migration, while a lack of evidence and significant lack of diversity at senior levels has created blind spots in the organisation, the report said.
“Only one member of its executive committee came from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. The department described the benefits of greater diversity at senior levels for its decision-making, leadership and governance, but acknowledged diversity as being its biggest issue,” the report said.
Moving on to the UK’s exit from the EU, the report warned officials were “unprepared for the challenges”. It added that the department had been unable to provide evidence, when asked in July, that it had begun discussions with EU counterparts on international operations, including regarding “the return of foreign national offenders and illegal migrants”.
The committee said it was not convinced that the department was sufficiently prepared to properly safeguard the existing, legal immigrant population in the UK, while also implementing a new immigration system and responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The committee gave the Home Office six months to come up with a detailed plan to make sure its decision-making is led by data and evidence so that it can analyse its work, particularly with regard to tackling illegal migration.
Minnie Rahman, campaigns and public affairs manager for the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said the report painted a “very accurate picture of a clueless, careless and cold-hearted Home Office. It is but the latest in a slew of reports to slam the Home Office’s working culture and practices.”
The charity echoed the committee’s calls for change, adding: “Immigration policy and practice must be based on robust evidence, proper staff training and a new culture of respect and care for individuals.”
Reacting to the report, a Home Office source said: “The home secretary agrees with the assessment made by the public accounts committee of historical issues at the Home Office. She has spoken at great length about how the department puts process before people, and it is why she has committed to implementing the findings of the Wendy Williams review into Windrush.”