Speaking for Ourselves

Home Office must respect confidentiality

Home Office must respect confidentiality


 Migrant Voice - Home Office must respect confidentiality

Professional confidentiality is an essential component of our lives – it’s what enables us to feel secure with a doctor, a teacher or anyone else we may divulge personal details to.

But in the newest offensive against migrants, that principle is at risk.

The government’s plan to create a “hostile environment” for people who are undocumented has driven desperate people underground, had huge impacts on documented migrants and even citizens (many whom have been racially profiled), and yet is failing to achieve any of its stated aims.

One investigation suggested that immigration officers have used racial profiling techniques to stop and question over 19,000 British citizens over the past five years. British citizens are the national group most stopped by Home Office spot-checks, although British citizens cannot be immigration offenders, and Home Office guidance states operations are meant to be intelligence-led.

Yet the drive to bind public servants and ordinary people into the migration control system continues. One small but significant way this hits home is in the sharing of data between public bodies that violates confidentiality in a bid to make criminalising migrants easier.

A legal challenge has been launched by the Migrants’ Rights Network against the data-sharing agreement between the Home Office, the Department of Health and NHS Digital that forces patient information into the hands of immigration officers. It is a likely contributing factor to a recent survey showing that a third of vulnerable migrants would not seek medical help if they needed it – creating potential serious public health issues.

Meanwhile, single parent families could be left destitute and at risk of deportation following another secret anti-immigration initiative that puts children and vulnerable families in the front line of enforcement.

A Freedom of Information request recently uncovered a similar data-sharing scheme for immigration enforcement, this time between the Department for Work and Pensions Child Maintenance Group (DWP CMG) and the Home Office. In short; confidentiality is being breached again so that one of the world’s richest countries can more easily withdraw food from children. Collaboration between departments is meant to improve – not destroy – outcomes for service users.

Similarly to the health service changes, it will deter migrant parents from using the child maintenance service, and child protection professionals argue it will “allow non-resident parents to avoid taking financial responsibility for their child.” For some people, child maintenance is the only family income stream.

And it will impact most heavily on the most vulnerable families, putting them at risk of enforcement action. Meanwhile our public servants and children’s services workers become unwilling, unintentional and unqualified parts of the immigration control system. Borders at airports are one thing; border checkpoints in every corner of life that plant suspicion and divide communities are another thing entirely.

It’s past time that we ended a system that prioritises reducing numbers above all else – be it public health, personal safety, child protection, economic stability, or the principle of confidentiality which sets a dangerous precedent if breached.

Only a week ago the Home Office’s independent inspector concluded that the hostile environment was backfiring. The legal challenge on NHS data-sharing may place the government’s strategy in even murkier waters.

It’s time for them to take a step back and do things differently; and it’s time for the hostile environment to go.


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Migrant Voice
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Phone: +44 (0) 207 832 5824
Email: [email protected]

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Number: 1142963 (England and Wales); SC050970 (Scotland)

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