"Ministers showcase their crackdown on problems they have invented themselves."
A migrant-rights activist outside Yarl's Wood detention centre in May (Photo by Chris Bethell)
Documents revealed by FoI requests made by VICE show how the government uses its own xenophobic hysteria to justify anti-migrant policies.
Agreements between the Home Office, DWP and HMRC about migration enforcement talk about the "reputational benefit of protecting the public purse and contributing towards tackling illegal immigration" and "reputational benefits and financial savings incurred by ensuring only those entitled are accessing public benefits".
In 2012, the DWP published research on migrants claiming in-work benefits. It showed that workers born abroad were less likely to claim benefits, but Employment Minister Chris Grayling used his own report to hype the non-existent problem of benefits tourism, saying, "I do not want to be paying benefits to those who should not receive them."
Years later, the Daily Mail column inches generated by that have created a situation in which there's a "reputational benefit" to clamping down on migrants. The government lies to make people fear migrants, so it can then show that it's dealing with the apparent problem. Knowing bullshit is being used to justify government policy.
Gracie Bradley, Advocacy Officer at Liberty, said: "Racist, anti-migrant rhetoric and discriminatory law-making have reached fever pitch in recent years. It's dangerous and irresponsible, has spread hate, division and discrimination, and is having a devastating effect on migrants and wider society every day. But the language in these agreements shows it's also purposeful and fine-tuned – a price worth paying to score political points, letting ministers showcase their crackdown on problems they have invented themselves."
This presumably also comes in handy when working out whose data to hand over. One of the agreements between the DWP and Home Office, released to VICE, acknowledges that the principle underlying data-sharing is "the common law duty of confidentiality owed to the public. This requires that personal information given for one purpose cannot be used for another, and places restrictions on the disclosure of that information. This duty can only be broken if the public interest requires it."
If policy can be justified with racism, how is the public interest defined? Would "reputational benefit" ever be used to justify the sharing of data? I asked the DWP how they judge the public interest in these cases and they didn't get back to me.