How to avoid another Windrush – talk to young people and reform the system so it works for them
The controversy surrounding the Home Office’s approach to the Windrush Generation has dominated news and politics recently. It follows several years of brave and tenacious work by people directly affected and their supporters. The story broke thanks to brilliant investigative journalism exposing the human cost of the ‘hostile environment’ and the negative effect it has had on migration policies.
The U-turn and apology from the Home Secretary and Prime Minister, committing to an investigation into the issue and to set up a task force is a ‘better late than never’ step by a department that has lost the confidence and trust of the public and of diverse communities. According to polling by YouGov, supporters of all the three main UK parties, as well as the SNP and UKIP, support the right of the Windrush generation to stay.
As events unfolded, campaigners reminded the Home Office that they had been warned that this situation was the foreseeable consequence of changes to immigration policy and law since 2014. These events should be no surprise to any constituency MP who deals with immigration and nationality cases. It is certainly no surprise to those of us in the charity sector who support projects around the country providing services and supporting communities, often picking up the pieces from cuts to legal aid that have left whole communities without legal help to seek recourse to justice.
Answering an urgent question in parliament, Home Secretary Amber Rudd acknowledged that her own officials were too focused on policy and not enough on individuals. So, while the government is in a moment of reflection and remorse, I urge them to review their approach to children and young people who have made the UK their home yet can’t get official recognition of their Britishness.
Tens of thousands of young people who are legally ‘long resident’ in the UK face huge struggles to navigate the long and arduous process to permanent, settled status. These young people and their families are British in all but papers; many are entitled to register as citizens and hold repeated short periods of legal leave. Yet over the past few years, it has taken longer and become more expensive and complex for young people to get their permanent status recognised. This month, the fees went up yet again, despite protests by young people from Let Us Learn asking for the Home office to Please Freeze Our Fees. Each young person subject to these fees will now have to make five applications, wait ten years and pay over £10,000 before they can obtain settled status.
There is so much evidence of the harm, hardship and wasted talent that results from these policies. Powerful reports have been painstakingly researched, cases have been taken to court, films have been made, and young people keep asking for reform. The Mayor of London and the House of Lords have expressed concern, and there is growing disquiet about the implications for children of EU citizens if the same hurdles apply after Brexit.
Since 2011, Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Unbound Philanthropy have supported charities, law centres and youth organisations to push for affordable, quick and youth-friendly routes to permanent status. Charities have provided free legal advice and help to thousands of young people, children and their families. These incredible people are working flat out to remove barriers, yet more spring up in their way, condemning a generation to endlessly spiralling costs and uncertainty.
This urgently needs sorting. The charities and young people involved know how to reform the process – they can provide a road map for reform if invited to the table. There are serious questions to answer about the ‘hostile environment’ and the policies that resulted in Windrush will take time to undo. But young people cannot wait. As a matter of urgency, ministers must talk to young people, and invite them to co-design a system that quickly, cheaply and simply gives them the permanency they need to get on with their lives and contribute. Officials need to be humble, accessible, open and fix a broken, target-driven system that doesn’t work for anyone.
Sarah Cutler is an independent consultant supporting PHF and Unbound Philanthropy’s grantmaking on youth and citizenship.