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Home Office Windrush ‘transformation team’ formally disbanded

The Home Office team that was tasked with transforming the department after the Windrush scandal has been formally disbanded, triggering disappointment from those affected and dismay from civil servants.

The Home Office’s annual report confirmed that the department’s dedicated post-Windrush “transformation” team had been wound down “due to the significant progress we have made”.

Campaigners working to secure justice for those affected by the Home Office scandal, in which thousands of people were wrongly classified as illegal immigrants, rejected the suggestion that significant progress had been made towards reforming the department and described the news as insulting.

“It’s upsetting to see things being rolled back like this. It feels like [the home secretary] Suella Braverman doesn’t understand how badly we were affected,” said Anthony Bryan, who spent five weeks in immigration detention awaiting deportation after being mistakenly classified as an immigration offender 52 years after he moved from Jamaica to the UK as an eight-year-old. “It’s more than an insult.”

Following the scandal, the government has repeatedly committed to implementing “comprehensive reform” of the Home Office to ensure that the department avoids mistreating people, pledging to adopt a more “compassionate” approach to immigration casework.

Officials adopted 30 reform commitments, set out by Wendy Williams, the independent civil servant who investigated the Home Office’s Windrush mistakes. In January, Braverman acknowledged that she had dropped three key commitments that would have increased independent scrutiny of immigration policies. Home Office sources say the decision to discontinue the dedicated team monitoring the reform agenda’s progress indicates a determination to draw a line under the scandal.

Only eight reform commitments had been fully completed by February, the last time an official review was conducted; 13 had been partially met and nine had not been met or dropped. Among other things, a promised assessment of the effectiveness of “hostile environment” legislation, which introduced immigration checks before people can access work, benefits and services, was not complete.

The annual report said the department aimed to “integrate the consideration of ethics into every stage of our work” so that it could better identify “the potential harmful or unintended consequences of its decisions”.

“Our Windrush response and department’s transformation programme will now be embedded into the fabric of our everyday operations and activities, instead of being managed through a dedicated team,” the report said. About 20 members of staff had been assigned new roles as a result of the team’s closure, a Home Office source said.

A separate Sheffield-based compensation team is unaffected by the London team’s closure, and work to compensate victims continues. Statistics released in June showed that only one in four of the 6,348 applications submitted had received payments. Campaigners have criticised the scheme’s slowness; 44 people have died after making a claim, before receiving compensation.

The annual report confirms accounts from Home Office whistleblowers reported by the Guardian in June.

The announcement about the transformation team was met with “upset and anger” during an online meeting, a source said, adding: “The people in the unit were worried about how their work would continue.”

Jacqueline McKenzie, a solicitor with Leigh Day, who has handled more than 100 Windrush compensation cases, said she saw little evidence in daily casework-related calls with Home Office staff to suggest the department had introduced significant cultural change.

“In terms of its attitudes towards asylum cases, deportation and refugees the department is as hostile as ever. Things have gone backwards in terms of poor decision-making and lack of humanity,” she said.

In a further sign of a departmental desire to move on, the cross-government working group on Windrush, which was set up to monitor progress on the reform agenda, is due to hold its final meeting on Wednesday.

The annual report highlighted the appointment of a senior Home Office civil servant, Abi Tierney, as the department’s ethics adviser, to “champion, advise and challenge on ethical behaviour”. However, Tierney is now leaving to take over as chief executive of the Welsh Rugby Union, and is one of a number of senior civil servants who has recently announced her departure from the department.

The reform pledges committed the department to introducing training on the history of empire and colonialism and teaching modules on handling casework with empathy. Documents leaked to the Guardian last week showed that Braverman was planning to impose strict vetting on diversity training courses staff after criticisms from right-leaning media that the department had given in to “woke” culture.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said the decision to mothball the post-Windrush transformation team was premature. “When the scandalous mistreatment of British citizens and lawful residents came to light five years ago, there was cross-party agreement that far reaching action was needed in the Home Office and ministers accepted the findings of the Wendy Williams review. It is truly shameful and insulting to the Windrush generation for the Home Office to do this now, when there is still so much more work to do,” she said.

A total of £67.59m has been paid out on 1,820 compensation claims so far, four years after the scheme was launched. Bryan said he had recently accepted a settlement that he felt did not reflect the damage caused by the Home Office’s mistake. He was dismayed to read that people affected by the Post Office scandal had this week received much higher settlements of £600,000. “They went through a lot too, but it’s weird. I received a fraction of that,” he said.

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