SSAHE (Social Scientists Against the Hostile Environment) invites you to our June Webinar: Depoliticising the Hostile Environment

Which will take place on Zoom at 5-6.30pm BST on 21 June 2021

Register via EventBrite here for details of how to join:

Speakers: Halima Begum, Hannah Jones, Frances Webber


In 2012, the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, coined the term ‘the Hostile Environment’, as a political strategy designed to make the UK unliveable for ‘irregular migrants’. Because it was a catchphrase without particular laws or policies linked with it at the time, gained widespread recognition and expanded into negative everyday practices across institutions. The Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016 enshrined the intentions of the ‘Hostile Environment’ into the responsibilities of numerous institutions and individuals, making employers, landlords and others responsible for immigration checks, extending national borders into everyday life. The power of this political strategy is partly that it built on something unsubstantial and imprecise, but emotionally engaging for those who could view it helping to arrest the erosion of their living circumstances.

The depoliticising of the Hostile Environment allows political strategies to remain unchallenged in many areas of life. This webinar seeks to extend the conversation on the links between apparently disparate events and policies in terms of how they serve to depoliticise the hostile environment and fragment political struggles. It discusses:

  • the Immigration Act 2020, following Brexit, which the Prime Minister suggests is ‘a firm and fair immigration system’ and which the current Home Secretary presents as both humane and promoting social justice by preventing traffickers from profiting from the exploitation of those seeking refuge and so as saving lives;
  • the Independent Review of the Human Rights Act launched on 7 December 2020;
  • the establishment and report of the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (the ‘Sewell Report’), where black, Asian and white commissioners concluded that there is no evidence of systemic racism in the UK and produced cultural notions of postraciality.


Halima Begum | Britain’s tussles with racism: Where next?

Halima is the CEO of the Runnymede Trust, the UK’s leading race equality think tank working to build a Britain in which all citizens and communities feel valued, enjoy equal opportunities, lead fulfilling lives, and share a common sense of belonging. Halima also has extensive experience in international development: during a 20-year career with the UK government, under both Labour and Conservative Administrations, she was First Secretary in a variety of overseas postings covering education, human rights, inclusive growth, public health and post-conflict recovery. She subsequently served as a Director of the British Council in Asia, helping to lead the UK’s higher education efforts including in China, before being appointed Vice President of the LEGO Foundation. In addition, Halima is a trustee of Toynbee Hall. She holds a BSc and MSc from the London School of Economics, and a PhD from Queen Mary College. She grew up in the London borough of Tower Hamlets in London and has been a life-long campaigner on equalities. She has lived and worked for multi-year stints in Bangladesh, China, Denmark, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan and has represented the British government in diplomatic assignments in most of these countries.

Hannah Jones | Violent Ignorance: Confronting racism and migration control

Hannah Jones writes, researches and teaches about racism, migration control, belonging and public sociology. She is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. Her latest book, Violent Ignorance: confronting racism and migration control, was published by Zed in 2021. On Twitter she is @uncomfy.

Frances Webber | Normalising inadmissibility: The New Plan for Immigration and the death of asylum

Frances Webber practised as a barrister specialising in immigration and asylum until her retirement in 2008. She lectured part-time at Warwick and Birkbeck, is the author of Borderline Justice: the fight for refugee and migrant rights (Pluto, 2012) and writes regularly for IRR News and Race & Class. She is vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations.  

Chair and Coordinators:

Ann Phoenix is professor of psychosocial studies at Thomas Coram Research Unit, Department of Social Sciences, UCL Institute of Education. 

Giorgia Doná is co-director of the Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging at the University of East London. She has researched and published extensively in the area of conflict and forced migration. Publications include The Marginalised in Genocide Narratives (2019), Forced Migration: Current Issues and Debates (ed. 2019, with Alice Bloch) and Child and Youth Migration: Mobility-in-Migration in an Era of Globalisation (ed. 2014, with Angela Veale).

Michaela Benson is a Reader in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her current research, Britain and its overseas citizens: from decolonisation to Brexitis funded by the British Academy’s Mid-Career Fellowship. She is also Co-I for a new ESRC-funded project Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit (2021-23), a collaboration with Professor Nando Sigona (University of Birmingham) that explores how Britain’s shifting position in the world in consequence of Brexit impacts on migration and mobility to and from the UK.

Ben Gidley is a Senior Lecturer in Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck and research associate of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, member of the International Centre for the Study of Racism at Edge Hill, and Editorial Board member of MONITOR Global intelligence on Racism. His most recent article is “‘At Least the Nazis Kept the Lights On’: Brexit Amnesia Airbrushes Out Genocide in the Channel Islands”.