In April 2019, the Government launched the Windrush Compensation Scheme in response to the Windrush Scandal. Over the past two years, it has roundly failed the Windrush Generation – over 21 people have died while waiting for their claims to be paid.
The compensation scheme was meant to help people get their lives back on track, and for the Government to acknowledge and apologise for how they abused the rights of Black British Citizens and other Commonwealth citizens. Instead, it has been far too complicated for victims to use, with very little support for those making claims.
Paulette Wilson, who was wrongly detained and threatened with deportation by the Home Office, died in July 2020 without receiving any compensation. Her daughter, Natalie Barnes said: “[The] Home Office still operates the hostile environment policy which contributed to the death of my mother. Before she passed, she was struggling with the forms and lack of support and respect from the Home Office.”
Over the last few months there have been multiple reports and inquiries on the failure of the Windrush Compensation Scheme from the National Audit Office, Home Affairs Select Committee and, this week, from the Public Accounts Committee.
They have highlighted the underfunding of the scheme’s administration and case management, lack of empathy and understanding of the needs of the survivors of the scandal, and low payment of compensation based on impact on life – which covers non-financial losses, like anxiety, distress, family separation, and deterioration of mental or physical health.
Michael Braithwaite, who was born in Trinidad and came to Britain in 1961, says of the scheme: “Over the last two years my life has been turned upside down. The mental stress and turmoil that caused me ill-health still impact my daily life. The government compensation scheme has not been fairly documented, it was constructed behind closed doors, with no public input and no one to represent the Windrush victims.”
These failures, in turn, have led to a low takeup rate of Windrush applications and a backlog of cases. It is not surprising that over 110,00 people signed my petition, supported by Lenny Henry, Thandiwe Newton, Hugh Quarshie and Naomie Harris, calling for the Windrush compensation scheme to be removed from the Home Office and managed by an independent agency. Only an independent body can restore confidence.
Charlotte Tobierre, who has been advocating for her father Thomas, says: “The Windrush compensation scheme must be moved to an independent organisation. Each category is a battle, you have to fight for every penny and it’s tiring. It is so damaging to a claimant to be asked to provide so much evidence to then be offered a small percentage of what they lost.”
Last week in anticipation of the Public Accounts Committee report, which was published on 27 July, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, announced that the end date for the scheme – which was to be April 2023 – would be removed, as well as introducing updated caseworker guidance and a support package for those making claims on behalf of a relative who has passed away. Although this is welcome, some of these changes were recommended years ago but were not taken seriously by Home Official officials until Windrush survivors and campaigners exposed the weaknesses and failure of the scheme.
The majority of applications now go to the appeal process. Unfortunately, the appeals are not independent, and this process does not give confidence to Windrush victims either. Most of the appeals are still around “impact on life” claims, where it appears case workers do not understand claimants’ circumstances and lack cultural understanding. The scheme is still fundamentally flawed. Ironically, Glyn Williams, Director General of Policy and Strategy for Border, Immigration and Citizenship at the Home Office, earns a six-figure salary and received a £13,000 bonus in 2019/20 – almost as much as the average Windrush claim.
Windrush Lives and The Good Law Project have launched a questionnaire to capture more evidence of the failure of the scheme which then will form the basis of a potential judicial review. I urge people and organisations to complete this important survey which supports the campaign for an independent agency to administer the scheme.
Finally, a lot of the victims are experiencing PTSD and physical health problems linked to the Government’s “hostile environment” policy. The Home Office has not made any provision for independent medical reports to be considered as part of claims for emotional loss. As yet, the Home Office, Public Health England, NHS England and Department of Health have not indicated they have plans for any dedicated culturally specific counseling support and testing for health conditions.
I have written to the Home Secretary and Prime Minister requesting a meeting, so that they can see some Windrush survivors and hear their experiences of the scheme. Then, they should take it out of the hands of the Home Office – this department was the perpetrator of the scandal in the first place, and will never inspire any trust or confidence from the survivors and wider Windrush Generation.
Patrick Vernon OBE is a British social commentator and activist. He played a key role in campaigning for a national Windrush Day on 22 June
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