BMENational Supports Calls For Independent Review of Institutional Racism in the Home Office

BME National fully supports and joins in with other race equality organisations into calling for an independent review of the Home Office. The full text of a press release issued by the Runnymede Trust on 19 March 2020 is below.

Race equality and migrant rights organisations call for independent review into institutional racism in the Home Office 

Following the publication of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, 15 race equality and migrant rights organisations (full list below) have today called for an independent review into the extent of institutional racism in the Home Office and whether its immigration policies are in accordance with equality law around racial discrimination.  
The Windrush Lessons Learned Review outlines that the UK’s treatment of the Windrush generation was caused by institutional failures to understand race and racism in relation to the Macpherson definition of institutional racism, as set out in Lord Macpherson’s landmark Inquiry report (1999) into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.  

The 15 race equality and migrant rights organisations, including the Runnymede Trust, are also urging the government to make a full apology to those affected by the Windrush injustices and to make the Windrush Compensation Scheme more accessible and to introduce independent oversight of the scheme, as a matter of urgency. 

Further recommendations include scrapping the Hostile Environment and appointing an independent advisory group and chair reporting directly to No. 10 and the Cabinet Office to implement the findings of the Windrush Lesson Learned Review, and ensure the inhumane injustices of the Windrush Scandal are not repeated.  
The full set of recommendations are: 

  • The treatment of the Windrush generation was a terrible but predictable injustice. The Review shows that government ignored repeated warnings and has still refused to apologise and compensate people who were detained, deported and in some cases died having been wrongfully treated. The government must right the wrong, beginning with a full apology to those affected, and making the compensation scheme process more independent and accessible.  
  • The Review shows why the Hostile Environment must be scrapped. None of the measures cited in the report, such as Right To Rent, have been repealed, the Home Office continues to treat people badly while the current Immigration Bill continues with policies and framing that will lead to further injustices. 
  • The EHRC to undertake an independent review into whether the Home Office’s immigration policy and practices are in accordance with equality law, including its understanding of racial discrimination and the extent of institutional racism in the department.   
  • The Review also reveals poor workplace practices and culture in the Home Office. It is long past time for systemic reforms in decision-making, to ensure caseworkers get better support and are able to raise concerns with senior managers, and for leadership to send a stronger message that it is committed to a more open and empathetic organisational culture.  (continued) 
  • Deportations of those who have lived in Britain since they were children should now end. Further, citizenship policy (including fees) should ensure that those who have the right to citizenship are provided with that citizenship, and racially discriminatory clauses in the 1971 Immigration Act and the 1981 Immigration and Nationality Act should be repealed. (continued) 
  • The government should commit to an extensive well-funded programme of support for grassroots and voluntary sector services that run outreach and support programmes for survivors of the Windrush injustice. The Hostile Environment is the latest in a catalogue of injustices experienced by this community over many years, and so this support should be extended to the wider cause of racial justice.   
  • The Windrush injustice reflects the Home Office’s failure to listen to those affected and organisations that pointed out the likely impact of the Hostile Environment. Government has refused to listen to civil society, dismissed concerns out of hand and attacked the integrity of those raising genuine concerns. The government must implement the WLLR recommendations on better engaging outside government, including groups that criticise its policies, if it is to avoid another similar injustice. 
  • The government should establish an independent advisory group and chair that reports directly to Number 10 and the Cabinet Office on the implementation of the Windrush Lesson Learned Review. 

The full list of race equality and migrant rights organisations supporting these recommendations are:  

The Runnymede Trust; Race on the Agenda; Voice4Change England; JCWI; Migrant Rights Network; Jewish Council for Race Equality; Traveller Movement; Race Equality Foundation; Friends, Families and Travellers; Olmec; BME Forum Croydon; Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre; Council of Somali Organisations; Caribbean and African Health Network; Black Training and Enterprise Group 
Dr Zubaida Haque, Deputy Director, the Runnymede Trust said:  
“The findings of the Windrush Lessons Learned Review are alarming, wide-ranging and profound: a terrible injustice was done to the Windrush generation, but the events and policies leading up to it were entirely predictable. Wendy Williams, the Independent Reviewer, makes it very clear that the injustice was not an accident, but a result of institutional failures to understand race and racism, in comparative ways as defined by Lord Macpherson’s definition of institutional racism over 20 years ago.”  
“It is now incumbent on this government to not only “right the wrongs” suffered by the Windrush generation (and other ethnic minority groups) as a result of the government’s hostile environment policies, but also to understand how and why Home Office culture, attitudes, immigration and citizenship policies have repeatedly discriminated against black and ethnic minority British citizens. Unless the issues around institutional racism are meaningfully addressed, we risk the same mistakes and injustices being repeated.” 
Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon OBE said:  
“It has been two years since the Windrush Scandal was exposed highlighting how the government systematically, as part of the Hostile Environment, abused the human rights and dignity of British citizens from the Windrush generations and descendants. We now need effective leadership from the Prime Minister to swiftly implement the recommendations with independent oversight of the Home Office. The report is more than lessons learnt, it is an indictment of the nature and impact of structural racism in government and how politicians and senior civil servants over the years have failed to have a duty of care and respect to the Windrush Generation” 

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Leeds BME-housing association CEO “humbled” by recognition in New Year Honours List

Leeds BME-housing association CEO “humbled” by recognition in New Year Honours List

Ali Akbor, Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise, has spoken of his pride at being awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List.

Mr Akbor, who joined Unity in January 1999 and also serves as Secretary/Treasurer of BME National, washonoured for services to the community in Leeds.

Responding to the announcement, he said:

“I am deeply humbled to receive this award, which is something I never envisaged. 

“I regard it as recognition for the work that Unity staff and Board members – past and present – have done over more than three decades. 

“I am part of a team, this is a team achievement and I trust each team member feels suitably proud.  There can be no greater honour for me than to work with them.  

“From a personal perspective, I also want to thank my family and friends for their support and encouragement over the years.  They have always been there for me and we will celebrate this special moment together.”  

Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, said:

“This prestigious honour is thoroughly deserved.    

“Ali has played a prominent role in improving the lives of so many people in Leeds and beyond over many years.  

“Alongside the provision of decent homes, he understands that social and economic regeneration, access to life opportunities and the removal of equality imbalances are essential for local communities to thrive.  

“I am delighted for him and his family.”

Shruti Bhargava, Chair of Unity, commented “Huge congratulations to Ali, its brilliant recognition and well deserved. The Board is very proud”

About Ali Akbor OBE

Born in Bangladesh, Ali is celebrating 50 years as a UK resident after moving here in early childhood without being able to speak English.  Ali learnt quickly and, having left school with six ‘O’ Levels and 7 CSEs, began his working career as a Youth Opportunities Programme trainee at Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.   He again made a swift impact, qualified as an accountant and held a range of finance and accountancy roles before moving to Salford City Council as Head of Finance in the Community and Social Services Directorate. 

It was there that he developed his keen interest in housing and was invited to join the board of a local housing association in Salford.  Ali used his hands-on knowledge to play a pivotal part on a voluntary basis in setting up a new housing association in Oldham which he subsequently chaired.  

In January 1999, Ali was appointed Chief Executive of Unity Housing Association.   Established 12 years earlier to tackle housing and other inequalities faced by BME communities in Leeds, the association was facing an existential crisis.  Ali led a skilful and determined crusade to widen Unity’s range of services and target communities.  He established Unity Enterprise – a not-for-profit subsidiary – to promote local entrepreneurial activity, followed by Unity Employment Services to enable Unity tenants and their surrounding communities to better access employment and training.  

Unity Enterprise now runs three business centres which are home to more than 80 different enterprises. It boasts an asset base of £2 million, generating a surplus which is reinvested into the wider community and economic development activities of the association including youth diversionary programmes and a healthy living project.  Thus far, Unity Employment Services has supported more than 1500 people into employment, training and volunteering.

Under Ali’s leadership, Unity now manages more than 1,300 properties for tenants from all ethnic backgrounds.   Most are in Leeds but, together with two schemes in Huddersfield, a new affordable housing development has recently been completed in Cleckheaton.  Unity has grown its annual turnover to £8 million with an average yearly capital budget of £5 million.

Ali has grown into one of the country’s most-prominent and highly-respected BME-led housing association chief executives.  In 2017, he was shortlisted in the Director of the Year (not-for-profit) category at the Yorkshire Business Leaders Awards.  In 2018, as Secretary/Treasurer of BME National, Ali organised a hugely successful House of Lords reception to celebrate the achievements of BME housing associations over more than 30 years.  At Ali’s invitation, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire agreed to be principal speaker.   Also last year, Ali was included in the inaugural Inside Housing BME Leaders List and was shortlisted in the Chief Executive of the Year category at the 24 Housing Awards.     

Ali is a frequent national commentator on diversity, social and housing policy.  He was a keynote speaker at last year’s inaugural 24 Housing Diversity in Housing Conference, and recently addressed an Equality and Diversity Network summit on community cohesion.  He has also written opinion pieces for Inside Housing, 24 Housing, Northern Housing Magazine and Asian Voice.  

Ali has drawn on his life experience and extensive expertise to serve as a board member of a number of other housing associations including Manningham, AKSA and Selhal Housing Group.  He has also been a non-executive director of Firebrand JVC (a joint venture company with five housing association members to develop new housing in West Yorkshire), re’new Leeds (a regeneration charity which helps people from disadvantaged communities) and St Anne’s Community Services (a large charity supporting people with learning disabilities, mental health challenges and substance abuse vulnerability, as well as the homeless). For 13 years, Ali served as Chair of Governors at Werneth Infants School in Oldham. 

A History of BME Housing Associations

Cambridge University’s Dr Neil Stott and Michelle Fava have authored a study that examines how Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) housing associations in England have developed and evolved since the 1948 ‘Windrush generation’.

The authors examine the interplay of institutional control, agency and resistance, in a highly racialized context.

The authors identify five phases in the development of grassroots organizers into housing associations, describing the different types of “institutional work” involved in challenging racialized institutions and establishing new institutions. The exercise of episodic power to achieve institutional agency created resistance from powerful actors seeking to maintain systemic power. The growing movement for black and minority ethnic housing fought to establish organizational legitimacy. Achieving this not only enabled them to serve and represent their communities but also entailed compromising more radical political agendas.

Dr Neil Stott says: “The study aims to address the fact that racialised groups, such as BME housing associations, have been largely invisible in the organisational literature. We encourage more extensive empirical research on forgotten activism to overcome the daily grind of racism, including the history of individual associations and their communities, as this could shed much-needed light into the activities of marginalised groups that create and maintain institutions that foster greater opportunity.”

Challenging Racialized Institutions; A history of black and minority ethnic housing associations in England between 1948 and 2018 authored by Neil Stott and Michelle Fava, Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, University of Cambridge, Cambridge (2019), UK is available here