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Windrush and the New Public Management Machine

16/05/2018 10:27

Tina Hearn considers the underlying causes of the recent Windrush scandal and the dehumanisation of public policy.

The impacts of the UK’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policy have been truly shocking. From deportations to the withholding of life saving cancer treatment, people unable to be with relatives during illness, to loss of jobs, homes and human dignity – the list goes on and on and is not confined to the Windrush generation.

One view which struck a particularly raw nerve was offered by Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, but in post at the time of Theresa May’s creation of the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy. He reported that there was considerable controversy amongst ministers at the time about this policy and that some ministers were of the opinion that the ‘Hostile Environment’ approach to immigration policy was in various ways “reminiscent of Nazi Germany.” The Windrush event has clearly not involved mass genocide or atrocities that took place under the Nazi regime, so why might some ministers have felt this way? Isn’t this just emotive, political hyberbole? Or was it perhaps about the racialisation of immigration policy? Or whether immigration policies take mechanistic, dehumanised approaches to policy administration? These are important questions to examine properly if the new Home Secretary is to achieve his stated aim of creating a fair and humane immigration policy.

So can immigration policy be considered as racialised? It is interesting to reflect on how terms such as ‘Britishness’, ‘immigrants’ and ‘race’ are commonly framed in immigration-related political and policy discourses. The use of the naturalistic term ‘race’ has diminished in political or policy discourse. This is not surprising and on at least two counts: the US Government’s Human Geome Project and numerous other studies have evidenced that there is no scientific evidence to support claims for distinct categories of human ‘races’. The term ‘race’ has also been associated with contentious political and policy issues and as such its use has also diminished. However, as Professor Martin Barker has noted, whilst the term ‘race’ has become submerged there is a concomitant tendency for the term to be reframed and expressed in naturalised, cultural or psychic categoric forms. So for example Amber Rudd’s resignation letter contained a naturalistically inflected reference to the cultural and psychic disposition of ‘instincts of the British people.’ Further, in the Windrush debate, both politicians and commentators continue to use politico-cultural categories such ‘colonial peoples’ when referring to those who are British citizens, yet continue to be categorised and so badged as different, as aliens within. It is worth underlining that Black Britons have been significantly and disproportionately affected by the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy, and that under the criminal justice system, any policy institution or suite of policies which disproportionately affect Black British people is a technical example of the phenomena of institutional racism.

Second, could the ‘Hostile Environment’ approach to immigration policy be described as mechanistic and dehumanising? Arguably this approach reflects broader contemporary approaches to governance and policy-making. Ironically, Amber Rudd gestured towards this point in stating “I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy, and sometimes lose sight of the individual.” Although the buck-passing element of this was not especially admirable, it touches upon a crucial problem. A problem which is arguably deeply ingrained in the style and approach to policy management which has been adopted and implemented across all government departments, i.e., new public management (NPM). Some of the main elements of NPM include: concentration of power at the top of political and policy hierarchies, management and regulation of the entire policy system through the use of quantified and inflexible specifications of policy inputs, outputs and processes, which are underpinned and heavily enforced through audit, performance measurement and sanctions. Evidence of the effects of this approach to policy have repeatedly emerged as the Windrush scandal has unfolded, with reports of rigidly enforced targets, a culture of hostility and dehumanisation fostered among staff and feelings of dehumanisation and despair widespread amongst British citizens having to deal with immigration services. This problem has been both exacerbated and amplified, yet also worryingly occluded by the outsourcing of immigration services to private companies. It seems we have moved towards a system of governance and policy-making which is at best systemically rigid and insensitive; at worst, a form of institutionalised inhumanity and cruelty.

The Government have responded to the indignities and cruelties of Windrush, by claiming that it was a mistake and that it will be put right. However, it is deeply concerning that this is not an approach to governance and policy making which is confined to either one or two ministers nor indeed a single government department. It is an approach which has been adopted across government with similar effects.

For example, the same political approach and policy technologies underpin the institutionalised cruelty of immiseration created by benefit sanctions, the cruelty of work capability assessments in the benefit system, the warping of objectives and processes in the education system, the denial of health care on the basis of discredited BMI indicators, the rapidly increasing numbers of child poverty in the face of cuts to Universal Credit – this list could go on and on. This is a problem which now permeates our entire political and policy system.

It is really important that these issues are aired and examined and that this should take place before the window of political and media attention upon Windrush closes. But perhaps that window is already incrementally closing? For example, Savid Javid the new Home Secretary’s voting record indicates that he has consistently supported the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy. The Government initially refused a request from Caribbean politicians to discuss the issue and has also voted down a parliamentary request for Government papers associated with this area of immigration policy to be released for political and public scrutiny. Government censorship of public policy processes which involve marking and badging people as different, and treating them as less than human, does not auger well for responsive and accountable Governance for the future, and in turn, neither does it auger well for a developing a humane, non-racialised approach to immigration policy.

The state is a barometer of how far edicts such as “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt 19:19) are nationally respected and observed – it remains to be seen if it can be so.


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No Place Like Home: Rethinking the Politics of Utopia
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