The number of Home Office staff receiving diversity training has more than doubled under Suella Braverman’s leadership of the department, despite her assertions that such lessons are a waste of taxpayers’ money and should be banned.
One month before she was promoted to home secretary in Liz Truss’s cabinet, Braverman, then attorney general, fiercely criticised equality sessions across Whitehall, revealing she had blocked officials at the Government Legal Department from attending such courses.
But in the first six and a half months of Braverman’s leadership of the Home Office, the number of civil servants in the department receiving public sector equality training increased to 126 a month, from just over 80 a month under Braverman’s predecessor, Priti Patel.
In response to a parliamentary question from the shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, the Home Office minister Chris Philp said 835 staff received the training between the start of September 2022 and mid-March.
The training was one of the key recommendations made in 2020 by Wendy Williams in her Windrush Lessons Learned review, which outline the steps the Home Office needed to take in order to avoid any repeat of that scandal.
Williams urged the department to launch a “structured programme of training and development for all immigration and policy officials and senior civil servants in relation to the Equality Act 2010 and the department’s public sector equality duty and obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998”, to which Patel wholly committed.
The figures raise questions as to why the department’s commitment to this recommendation has accelerated under Braverman’s leadership while in January she ditched three other post-Windrush pledges made by Patel, including to create a post of migrants’ commissioner.
A Westminster source said: “It looks like Braverman’s commitment to end diversity training means about as much as her vow to stop the small boats. It’s yet another reminder that the louder a minister in this government shouts about an issue, the less they actually deliver.”
Last August, Braverman backed the then Tory leadership contender Truss’s proposals to scrap diversity and inclusion roles across Whitehall. Braverman said she was “all for a diverse workforce … meritocracy [and] inclusion” but there had been a “takeover by HR teams, campaign groups” that had “propagated a political ideology when it comes to identity politics”.
Describing “thousands of hours” of diversity and inclusion training in government departments as a “huge cost to the taxpayer”, Braverman said: “It’s been divisive not inclusive. It’s been patronising, not empowering. It’s based on an assumption that me as an ethnic Asian woman from working-class roots must be a victim, necessarily oppressed.
“That’s a misassumption. And I think it creates division. It’s tearing up society, breaking down the fabric of our country. And I think it’s a waste of money.”
After the government’s decision to drop key Windrush commitments, Williams said it felt like a “slap in the face”. Her comments were echoed by others such as the campaigner Patrick Vernon, who accused the home secretary of “backsliding” on promises to set things right.
The Guardian understands that the 69% of Home Office staff who work in operational roles including migration and borders and homeland security will be required to undertake online equality training later this year.
A Home Office spokesperson said its staff “are required to undertake regular learning and development across a range of topics”.