Windrush Scandal: Only 196 People Compensated To Date

With the latest release of The Windrush Compensation Scheme Data Factsheet: October 2020, Lois Hill provides an update on the facts and figures and how we got here in the first place.

It has now been three years since the Windrush scandal first emerged in late 2017, and yet as the figures from the latest set of data show, there are still many individuals and families who are continuing to suffer as a result of the government denying their legal right to remain in the UK. By September 2020, a total of 1,587 claims had been received by the Home Office. By this same date there were 196 claims that had received payments, totalling £1,619,219.41. There were 81 zero entitlement decisions and 80 claims rejected on eligibility grounds. Further, 504 people had been referred by the Home Office Help Team, who operate the Windrush Helpline, to the claimant assistance provider, highlighting the difficulties that people might be facing in completing their application. Overall, there have been clear struggles with accessibility to the scheme and receiving adequate remuneration.

What is Windrush?

The Windrush generation describes the wave of migrants who arrived on the Empire Windrush and other boats after it from the Caribbean, to come and help rebuild and reshape the UK after World War II. People from these particular commonwealth countries were encouraged by Britain to come to help fill the shortage of labour present at the time. Windrush carried 492 migrants, who were coming to a country promising prosperity and employment.

According to the UK National Archives, between 1948 and 1970 nearly half a million people left their homes in the Caribbean to live in Britain. The influx of immigrants ended when the Immigration act 1971 was put into place. This act was put in place to stop the permanent migration of workers from the Commonwealth of Nations. However, citizens of the commonwealth – which was an international association consisting of the UK along with states that were previously part of the British empire – who were already living in the UK were supposedly awarded with an indefinite leave to remain. It also expanded on the definition of ‘partial’ migrants, first introduced in the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, as people born in the United Kingdom who had resided there for the previous five years or longer.

What is the Windrush scandal?

The scandal emerged in 2017, when it was established that hundreds of commonwealth citizens, including many from the ‘Windrush’ generation had either been detained, deported or denied legal rights because the government did not accept their legal right to remain. Those impacted were a group of people and their descendants, who had become a ‘citizens of the UK and colonies’ which was an old colonial status given to British citizens between 1949 and 1982.

A Home Office report published in March 2020 found that the scandal was ‘foreseeable and avoidable’ with victims let down by ‘systemic operational failings’ at the Home Office. This highlighted the institutional racism still faced by those from the Windrush generation and their families.

Where are they now?

Lots of the Windrush generation migrants became, drivers, nurses, manual workers, since they were the professions with shortages when the citizens were called to come to the UK. They all played an integral part to help British society function. For example, Sam Beaver King from Jamaica, who became the first black mayor of Southwark in London in 1983 at 57. At the time, he has the only black mayor in London.

Also, Paulette Wilson became an immigrant rights activist to fight for other people like her impacted by the scandal, alongside her day job as a cook where at one time she worked at the House of Commons staff restaurant. Coverage of her situation and fight with the Home Office to gain recognition of her status in the UK, meant that other victims came forward and it further reiterated the 2012 policies implemented by Theresa May during her time as home secretary. Sadly, Wilson passed away in July 2020 but was a passionate activist up until her death. Recently, in June 2020 she along with other activists formed a petition, which contained 130,000 signatures to Downing street and called on the government to resolve the outstanding issues and provide compensation to victims of the scandal.

Are they here legally?

In 2012, a new policy called the ‘hostile environment’ legislation was put in place, which required the NHS, landlords, banks, employers and many additional services to tighten immigration controls. As many of the them arrived as children on their parents’ passports and the Home Office had destroyed thousands of landing cards and other records, lots of the Windrush generation were falsely accused of being ‘illegal immigrants’.

They were required to prove their residency before 1973; with the home office demanding at least one official document from each year they had been here. Unsurprisingly, finding documents from long ago proved extremely difficult and therefore many lacked the documentation to prove their right to remain in the UK, despite legally entering British territory all those years ago.

What were they facing?

They began to lose access to official documentation and essential services such as housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licenses. Many were even put in immigration detention centres, prevented from travelling abroad or even deported to countries that they had not been back to since they came to the UK as children.

Even though they had lived in Britain for many decades and paid tax and insurance, many never formally became British citizens. This is why that when the immigration laws were tightened, they lacked the documentation to go through this process.

What did the government do?

The unjust treatment of those affected instigated widespread condemnation of government’s failings on the matter and calls for a radical reform of the Home Office and the UK’s immigration policy were made. According to the UK parliament website, ‘efforts by the home office to remedy the injustices suffered by people caught up in the Windrush scandal are ongoing’.

However, the ‘Windrush Lessons Learned’ review was still published a year behind schedule and was released amidst the covid-19 pandemic so was arguably partially buried within the headlines. That being said, Williams’, who published the latest Windrush independent review for the government, is committed to follow up on her report and ensure that the enquiries lead to change.

How have the government actions been received?

It is undeniable that the mistreatment of Windrush citizens were rooted from the failures of the UK government, which led to heavy criticism from the general public. Campaigns for an investigation into the system were launched, and it was said that the UK barely understood their own laws, with this ignorant behaviour meaning this scandal was inevitable.

There are worries that there is a risk of similar failings happening again if the government do not properly act on its recommendations from the released report in March 2020. Also, there is criticism of the compensation scheme at the rate it has been rolled out and the extent of the payments. For example, an individual would receive £10,000 for being deported, or £500 for denial of access to higher education. Furthermore, the process isn’t being prioritised, which was highlighted in Hubert Howard’s case who sadly passed away in 2019, only being granted British citizenship 3 weeks after before his death. Unfortunately, this process was only sped up once his lawyer highlighted to the Home Office that he was critically ill and he was not able to receive compensation or a personal apology before his passing.

What is the current state of play of the scandal?

Ultimately, there are two critical issues with the Windrush scandal that need to be resolved in a timely way, the first is the compensation scheme. It involves a 15-page form that claimants have to fill out themselves and is not really accessible for its elderly audience.

The second issue is the legal status of Windrush people, we believe there should be some kind of amnesty and legal reform in relation to their immigration status that should be resolved, again as quickly as possible so that there is no ambiguity in terms of their rights of entitlement to things that British citizens should be able to access so things like benefits, the right to vote, right to medical treatment and equal treatment in the eyes of the law.

These are both challenges which were to be addressed by the Windrush Working group formed by home secretary Priti Patel to further address the wider challenges that disproportionately affect people from black and wider BAME backgrounds, particularly in relation to the Windrush schemes community fund.

Photo: Neil Kenlock