Author: SIENNA RODGERS
It didn’t surprise me to see David Lammy’s tweet earlier this week, which attached a photo of an invitation letter from immigration minister Caroline Nokes about a meeting. “This was an absolute shambles and further exposed the rank incompetence of the @ukhomeoffice,” the Labour MP for Tottenham said.
Parliamentary caseworkers are well-placed to know the failings of the Home Office. Most deal with immigration cases every day, and – along with housing complaints – they certainly make up most of a caseworker’s workload if the MP represents a diverse constituency. From requests to expedite passport applications to distressing child asylum claims, the cases are incredibly varied but typically urgent and emotive. Almost every communication with the ‘member enquiries’ team is frustrating, often to the point of despair. Urgent enquiries are left unanswered for months, and devastating mistakes are commonplace.
That’s not to blame the civil servants working there – the impression I got as a Labour MP’s caseworker was that they were given limited information themselves, and the pressures felt with a backlog of cases and overstretched resources were comparable to our own. There were clearly not enough immigration caseworkers and there seemed to be a high turnover of staff members. I’m sure they would say more than ‘this case is complex and falls out of our normal service standards’ if they could. It is government policies under the hostile environment framework that combine cruelty and incompetence.
Today, Andy Slaughter MP’s caseworker Louisa Ware has written for LabourList about the meeting in question. As a former caseworker, every word resonates. “I’ve worked on countless immigration cases. But I’m still left shocked by the dysfunction and absurdity that I’ve witnessed at the Home Office,” she writes.
In an effort to improve relations between UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) and parliamentary staffers, a meeting was set up this week. Although “due to be an hour and a half long” with “time for questions”, Louisa says there was instead a “35-minute talk about policy and a vague summary of future engagement opportunities”. And Nokes didn’t turn up until the very end of the meeting, when attendees were being shuffled out. Those MPs’ staffers who had travelled to Westminster can’t afford to waste hours of precious work time, particularly while austerity imposes unreasonable demands on every parliamentary office. Again, this inefficiency is not the least bit unusual – but it is outrageous. The Home Office is not fit for purpose.