Theresa May’s pre-Windrush policies caused mental distress for Black Britons, finds study

Theresa May’s pre-Windrush policies caused mental distress for Black Britons, finds study

Former Prime Minister Theresa May’s so-called hostile environment policies, which helped trigger the Windrush scandal, worsened the mental health of Black Caribbean people across the country, a damning new study has highlighted.

The decline in mental health for Black Britons comes as the Mayor of London calls on the government to speed up access to the Windrush compensation scheme by reducing the burden of proof on claimants and to help victims with losses to private pensions and future earnings, which the scheme doesn’t currently do.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday, seen exclusively by The Independent, Sadiq Khan wrote:“Although there is still more to do, your response to the Post Office scandal has been an example of how quickly the government can respond to correct injustices.

“Unfortunately, the lack of progress on ending the Windrush scandal displays a lack of will on the government’s part to show up for the Windrush generation.”

Meanwhile, researchers at University College London (UCL) found a sharp downturn in mental health for Black Caribbean people in the wake of tougher Home Office policies brought in by Theresa May when she was home secretary.

They examined data from over 58,000 people, 2,000 of whom were of Black Caribbean heritage, which has linked racial disparities in psychological well-being with government policy.

Participants completed health questionnaires between 2009 – 2020, answering questions about their mental health, and the results formed the basis of a study examining distress including symptoms of depression.

The probe, funded by the Wellcome collection, showed that Black Caribbean participants’ data indicated a decline of 0.7 points on a mental well-being scale of 1-36, which is more than the declines in mental health seen across the whole UK population at the time of the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Reacting to the findings, campaigner Patrick Vernon called for an urgent roundtable to be facilitated by the government and healthcare bodies to develop an “immediate action plan” around health among Black Caribbean communities – particularly those directly affected by hostile environment policies.

The Windrush scandal, which emerged in 2018, saw many British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean, denied access to healthcare and benefits and threatened with deportation despite having the right to live in the UK.

“Having worked with and supported survivors of the Windrush generation and their families as a result of the Home Office scandal, this report is now part of a growing evidence base that hostile environment is a contributing factor to trauma and mental distress,” Mr Vernon, who supported UCL’s research, told The Independent.

“The consequences include loss of liberty, degradation, humiliation, death, attempted suicide, bereavement, anxiety and depression, hypertension and stroke, food deprivation, isolation and loneliness, deportation fatigue and intergenerational trauma.

“Survivors of the scandal say they feel the government robbed them of their Black British identities and made them feel like aliens and non-entities.

“This hurt and trauma is felt by many people of colour and migration status as we constantly deal with microaggressions and everyday racism, which have an impact on our mental wellbeing. This is not reflected in the current compensation scheme which has failed to meet their emotional and financial needs.”

The government promised to right the wrongs of what had happened but the compensation scheme has been repeatedly criticised for the speed at which claims are being processed and payments made.

UCL researchers investigated the impact of the Immigration Act 2014 which requires landlords, employers, the NHS, banks and the police to check right-to-stay documentation.

This was a key part of a set of measures known as the Home Office hostile environment policy which sought to oust people without leave to remain in the UK.

This policy was introduced by former home secretary Theresa May who said in 2012 “the aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.

She said last year that she regretted using the term “hostile environment”.

Further analysis revealed that the 2014 Act affected first-generation Black Caribbean migrants more, while media coverage of the Windrush scandal affected British people of Caribbean heritage more.

The researchers did not find similar effects for other ethnic groups, even though some might have been similarly impacted by the hostile environment policy.

Dr Annie Jeffery, lead author of the UCL research, said: “Our study highlights the harms to mental health that the government’s hostile environment policy had on certain groups of people, in addition to other well-documented harms such as deportation, job loss, eviction, and discrimination,”

“The mental health impacts may have stemmed from the direct impacts of such threats to people’s homes and livelihoods, but could also have resulted from a wider, pervasive sense of racial injustice and bias, faced by a group already experiencing systemic and sometimes institutionalised racism and discrimination.

“When the Windrush scandal dominated the news, there may have been a risk of re-traumatisation for some people, while even those not directly affected may have experienced a form of vicarious trauma or fear of what could happen to them.”

A government spokesperson said: “The government remains absolutely committed to righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal. We have also made significant progress since the Windrush Lessons Learned review and our important work to implement its recommendations continues.“We’re going further and faster to transform our country’s mental health services, with up to an additional £2.3 billion being invested annually from this year to expand services, so an extra two million people can get the support they need.”

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