Accident and Emergency and the UK Border are two places where your resources have very little effect on how you are treated. A&E doctors, nurses and unreliable data-driven e-gates at the airport serve everyone with the same passport equally, no matter how much money you have, whether you have settled or pre-settled status, whether you have leave to remain; the same Home Office culture runs across it all.
In our wider work, as medConfidential looks at data across government, we keep finding the institutionally secretive, invasive and nasty Home Office undermining good governance. We have therefore created this page to collate work on various aspects of Home Office data malfeasance.
Whether through its ‘Common Data Platform’, heralded in its 2013 Technology Strategy – though clearly not yet fully delivered according to its strategy for 2024 – the barely constrained Home Office Biometrics programme (HOB) and its 6 year late, so-called ‘biometrics strategy’, or its multifarious “Watchlist”, “Status-checking” and Atlas “Caseworking” systems, the approach of the Home Office and its agencies is to mix data on everyone they deal with.
As with its latest expansion of digital identity checks, to bring “in scope” all those who seek employment or to rent a home – namely all British and all Irish citizens, in addition to those from the EU, and from beyond, as well as any who claim sanctuary from harm here.
The culture of the Home Office, spreading increasingly across Government, is to make despair convincing:
Are you a victim of crime? Nothing will help… Abused by power? It’ll be covered up… (Legal) migrant to the UK? You’ll be alone and chased… Want to know who funds political campaigns? You’ll be sued or shut down… Want justice? You’ll be spied upon…
Defending its ineffectiveness, the Home Office says no-one has any proposal that could be implemented by Government. Here are two:
- Transfer responsibility for immigration visa allocation to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities, formerly MHCLG, which has a statutory obligation and capacity to understand the variety of needs of our communities.
- Make the lead Department for the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 the UK Health Security Agency which can determine how best to protect the UK population’s health and security from health-affecting substances.
And, six months after any Machinery of Government change, Ministers should make a Written Statement to Parliament that describes what has changed, so that members of the public can see quickly those positive changes…
A procession of Official Reports confirming the problems
After an institutional failure, there is often a report. For example, the 2017 Hillsborough report was entitled: “‘The patronising disposition of unaccountable power’: A report to ensure the pain and suffering of the Hillsborough families is not repeated”
Later reports show institutional failures continue, all across Government, including:
- 2017 – Lammy review
- 2018 – Williams Review into Windrush
- 2019 – Byrom Review
- 2021 – Daniel Morgan Inquiry
- 2021 – Lewisham Hospital Oversight Panel on [maternity] Patient Charging
- 2022 – ChildQ
We would also hope to review all of the above reports with regard to recommendation 26 (p13) that the Lewisham Hospital report rejected: “[the institution] produces a statement that captures in an easy format document as to what has changed… so that members of the public can see quickly those positive changes.”
Will the public see positive change?
Home Office culture is insidious, infecting all it touches. Its institutional corruption is creeping across the public services – and even into the NHS, via visitor charging rules. The response to recommendation 26 of the Lewisham and Greenwich migrant charging inquiry is just one example of the Home Office’s corrupting influence at work; how often does an NHS Trust refuse to publish a simple public statement of what changed?
medConfidential’s efforts are directed at making the hope (and the reality) of systemic reform more plausible, practical and possible – rather than persisting with despair at the status quo. This is one reason why we recommend that every reform “produces a statement that captures in an easy format document as to what has changed… so that members of the public can see quickly those positive changes.”
Things will only improve if an expectation of the truth-telling of medicine and the accountability of the NHS is brought to the toxic soup of the Home Office and all its agencies.
While tragedies do and will happen, the health service must keep track of everyone who dies, and why. And the NHS knows it is imperfect – whether that is because of the inverse care law, or the fact that in some areas ‘customer satisfaction’ can be more correlated with race than the quality of care.
As the NHS and wider care system protect the health of the country, so should a reformed Home Office be tasked with protecting the humanity of the country.
- The Home Office’s implementation of visas remains focussed on a single objective, without the ability to respond to events:
- It failed so badly on Ukraine, even with advanced planning, that even the Government’s own backbenchers got exceptionally unhappy;
- There was no re-use of the process put in place during a previous crisis for Afghans;
- Given its primary reliance on passports, what planning has the Home Office done to accommodate a third refugee event (a) from countries with biometric passports, and (b) from countries without biometric passports?
- Regulations preventing UK migrants from using their residence permits to prove their right to rent or work in the UK were passed without Parliamentary debate.
- When challenged about “Home Office’s policy and practice of systematically seizing and retaining asylum seekers’ mobile phones, and extracting data from them” in a Judicial Review, “The Home Secretary claimed – well into the judicial review proceedings – not to have had such a policy. She then admitted that the Home Office had that policy and that she had failed in her duty to be candid with the court.” (source) . Part of a twitter thread on the Home Office’s lack of candor and misleading the court.
- As the Ukraine crisis has shown, it is incompatible that the part of Government which enforces UK border policies (i.e. Home Office) is the same Department determining the people who our communities wish to welcome – at the same time overriding the wishes of both local and national government.
- The co-option of organisations dependent upon public funds to help the homeless continues, both with charities (St Mungos, again) and councils, making the already vulnerable be more vulnerable – and the most expensive support services be used even more.
- Following the lead of the Home Office in many of its legal appeals, the Metropolitan police force doubled down on its bad decisions – in denial that it breached the human rights to freedom of speech and assembly of those attending the vigil for Sarah Everard. Its arguments were deemed “hopeless”, and its request to appeal was rejected by the High Court.
requirementburden coming from somewhere in Government that all new “GOV.UK Accounts” are to require a UK phone number – including those for people looking to sign up for information from overseas (making it near-impossible). There was even a test of that requirement for those submitting passenger landing cards online – people who by definition are outside the UK, even if they have a UK number at all.
- Home Office fails to link to online change of address form, placing burden on lawful residents and costing taxpayers tens of millions:
- Missing GOV.UK web link potentially cost taxpayers £50m
- See also FOIed HO internal communications on this issue, and Annex 5 of our ongoing work on the systems of Universal Credit. (medConfidential’s work on UC introduced the concept of a Department as a ‘monster factory’ – one that can choose to work slowly or at speed, depending on its own interests…)
- Bias in Home Office algorithm to detect “sham marriages”:
- Detecting “sham marriages” through data has long been a dream of the Home Office (paragraph 83) – an advocate of that project is now leading on data at DLUHC, formerly MHCLG.
- The Department of Health uses the Home Office Accelerated Capability Environment (ACE) programme for procurement within its AI Lab ‘skunkworks’ – which is confirmed to be a civil service project, not an NHS project.
- Home Secretary Priti Patel forced to suspend racist “visa streaming” algorithm, using a secret list of “suspect” nationalities in its automated visa application systems.
- Ministry of Justice / Department for Education “administrative” data projects are in fact steered by the Home Office, using what should be research funding to pursue operational goals.
- The Home Office deploys a racist passport photo checker, despite knowing it will not work for people with darker skin.
- Analysis of the Home Office Settled Status programme:
- Automated data checks in the EU Settlement Scheme Report.
- Settled Status Revisited – Annex 5J, December 2021 – includes the predictable result of the Home Office decision not to provide physical proof of settled status, and the threatening consequences in Section 10 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022.
- Home Office Memorandum of Understanding with NHS Digital and its predecessor bodies, NHS IC and HSCIC:
- For years, patients’ details – including their name, address and details of their GP – were passed to the Home Office, solely on the basis of Home Office officials’ assertions that immigration offences had taken place.
- In late 2016, an MoU is signed to “formalise” NHS Digital’s ongoing practice, but this dangerously expands the information given about patients to the Home Office.
- Following public outcry, an independent review, and a Parliamentary inquiry, the Government suspends the MoU in May 2018. The threshold for the NHS to pass on patients’ information is later raised to that of serious crime.
- Though its name and the budget may change, one thing is for certain – the Home Office is spending hundreds of millions on a massive ‘Common Data Platform’:
- 2021: Secretive Home Office unit has hoarded data on millions of people
- 2019: Home Office Is Building A Massive Database Of Migrants
- 2018: Government to ink deal for yet another immigration database, only £347m wasted in last overhaul
- 2017: Just how screwed is IT at the Home Office?
- 2016: Home Office creating mega database by stitching together ALL its Gov records
- The Windrush scandal began to surface in 2017 as stories emerged about hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many from the ‘Windrush’ generation, who had been wrongly detained, deported and denied their legal rights. A formal Independent Review was published in 2018.
- Wendy Williams, who led the 2018 Windrush Lessons Learned independent review, speaking at the IfG on institutional ignorance and institutional racism – any meaningful review must adhere to the legal practice of Maxwellisation;
- Home Office officials were “institutionally ignorant” about race issues, and remains largely unreformed. (As do related institutions which demonstrate their embedded prejudice, even in their press releases.)
- 2022 Windrush update – The Home Office has not updated its culture and has not begun doing training staff as of mid-2022
- Other examples of the Home Office’s deeply flawed and discriminatory immigration system impacting on the entirely innocent: