The Home Office is regarded as one of Britain’s most important ministries by British voters, especially due to the level of importance they place on immigration and crime levels.
Despite this, it is one of the most broken ministries in the UK. It continues to make failings in policy areas which impact our everyday quality-of-life, including on immigration and security.
This is, as a new report by Henry Hill for the Adam Smith Institute highlights, largely the result of the Home Office having a policy remit which is far too wide.
The Home Office is unlikely to focus on tackling both immigration reform and police dysfunction efficiently for this very reason. If we want to make any traction on this, Hill argues, the Home Office should be split into an Immigration Department and a Security Department. A dedicated Security Department would then be able to focus on the urgent task of reforming the Metropolitan police, for example, while the Immigration Department could apply themselves fully to tackling the backlog in the Passport Office and its questionable immigration policies. Increasing the number of ministers and advisors, and focusing their minds on certain issues, would provide much better political management and improve scrutiny.
Breaking up the Home Office would not automatically produce any change in policy – which would remain the province of politicians. However, there are a number of areas which need serious reform.
Take immigration—where the Home Office’s policies are particularly questionable. The inhumanity of the Rwanda scheme aside, it also lacks any economic justification. Supporters of the scheme claim that it provides a way for the UK to avoid spending £4.7 million a day on housing of migrants in hotels. However, this seems highly unlikely. The Australian model, which the Government based the Rwanda scheme, on has cost around £4.3 billion since July 2013. This divided by the number of asylum seekers in the system results in £1.38 million per asylum seeker. If this is applied to the 28,592 migrants who have crossed the border this year, it would equal a £38.5 billion bill for the taxpayer. Another considerable flaw is that there is a lack of evidence to conclude that the scheme will actually reduce the number of channel crossings.
It also seriously needs to get a grip of what its position on low-skilled migration is. Low skilled migrants are needed to fill employment gaps but current restrictions exacerbate the mismatch between job vacancies and the jobs people are willing to do. These employment gaps force companies to increase wages to attract workers to fill spaces: increasing costs which are ultimately passed onto the rest of us through higher prices and weaker growth.
Elsewhere in the Department, the UK’s police system continues to garner negative attention. From the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by MET officer Wayne Couzens to the failings of the police in the Stephen Port case, public trust in the police system is in decline.
One problem is the persistent culture of sexism, racism and homophobia that appears to be integrated into the police force. On the 17th October 2022, Baroness Casey published an interim report as part of her review of the police force. In this review, it was highlighted that a key problem of the Metropolitan police is its inability to handle police officer misconduct. A particular problem is the lack of clarity over what constitutes ‘gross misconduct’ and that officers with repeated patterns of unacceptable behaviour are not often identified or disciplined.
The Casey Review follows the Operation Hotton investigation which took place earlier this year and investigated the misconduct of Met Police officers. This investigation shed light onto a police culture often characterised by extreme sexism and racism. It depicts an environment where it is acceptable for police officers to freely discuss raping female colleagues and physically assaulting women. It also featured cases of bullying, sexual harassment and discriminatory language used by officers.
It does not end here. In January 2022, 5 officers were sacked from the Hampshire Constabul for making homophobic, sexist and racist remarks.
Arguably, it is cases such as the murder and rape of Sarah Everard which are the product of this culture being able to grow. It is no wonder therefore that only around 15 per cent of victims report sexual violence to the police, or that despite reports of rape rising, convictions continue to plummet.
The UK police force functions off the trust and consent of the people. According to the 2020 Crime Survey of England and Wales, public confidence in the police is continuing to decline; from 62 per cent (2012) to 55 per cent (2020). Despite the Home Office’s efforts to fix this problem, ultimately the sexism, racism and homophobia is systemic. A radical overhaul of the current police force is clearly needed.
Whatever your view is on immigration policy or policing reform, nobody is satisfied when the Home Office is incapable of achieving its basic functions. It is in the UK’s best interest to split up the Home Office to provide its successors with the political ability to enact much-needed change.