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How the Home Office’s ‘Hostile Environment’ gradually led to the Windrush disgrace.



Care to understand where the Home Office’s Windrush mess come from? Polly Mackenzie was Director of Policy for the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg between 2010-2015. She explains how, as a senior advisor for the Tory-LibDem coalition government, she saw the Hostile Environment policy gradually develop.

[This piece was originally written in the format of a Twitter thread and has been minorly edited and corrected.] 


The “hostile environment” mission started in earnest in December 2012, with an inter-ministerial group set up on Migrant Access To Benefits And Public Services (we called it MATBAPS).

Right from the start, Theresa May’s mission was to make it systematically difficult to get by without papers (Theresa May was appointed Home Secretary by Prime Minister David Cameron in May 2010 and remained in post until July 2016 — the longest-serving Home Secretary of modern times).


Impact Assessment produced by the Home Office in 11 Oct. 2013.
Regulating migrant access to health services in the UK (House of Commons).


At no point was evidence presented on the scale or importance of abuse; we were just repeatedly told it was widespread.

Initial terms of reference included looking at:

  • work checks;

  • school registration;

  • benefits checks;

  • hospital and GP appointments;

  • lettings;

  • bank accounts and credit;

  • driving licences

  • voting.


What happens with task forces is they keep meeting and the civil service keep finding new things to discuss, regardless of merit.

The Home Office accepted the theory that emergency healthcare and schooling should be provided regardless of immigration status.

But they kept hammering the Department for Health and the Department for Education with demands to check and pass on data. I saw endless papers claiming the system was “unsustainable in the current economic climate” but no evidence to back it up.

David Laws (then-Minister of State for Schools) stood his ground on schools. Nick Clegg (then Deputy-Prime Minister) got immigration checks by landlords down to a pilot. But then in 2015 the Conservatives won a majority and there was no brake on their worst instincts.

A huge price has been paid by people who belong in Britain; and all because the Home Office lost touch with its humanity. I hope it finds a way to change.🔷




Embed from Getty Images


(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)


(Cover: Dreamstime/Ojen - Prime Minister Theresa May visits Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen in Copenhagen, Denmark - 9 April 2018.)


Author image
Director of cross-party think tank Demos. Former Director of Policy for Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg 2010-2015. She also founded the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute in 2016.
Camberwell, London, UK. Website

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