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Expenditure on the Windrush Compensation Scheme

Part of Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 24th March 2020.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Shadow Home Secretary 5:45 pm, 24th March 2020

We are debating this important Bill in the shadow of the terrible existential crisis of coronavirus. However, it would be wrong to let the debate go past without sharing the perspectives of large numbers of the Windrush cohort on the arrangements for compensation. As was said in the Windrush lessons learned review:

“Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country. They had every right to be here and should never have been caught in the immigration net.”

When we talk about compensation for the Windrush cohort, it is important to note that we are not talking about an act of charity; we are talking about people who were always entitled to be here and are owed an apology, as Wendy Williams said, as well as compensation.

I begin by making the point that it is important in going forward with Windrush compensation that we look beyond the Caribbean. In the lessons learned review, Wendy Williams pointed out that the Department’s historical cases review focused solely on people from the Caribbean and excluded anybody with a criminal conviction and a sentence of more than 12 months. We have seen that the legislative changes that apply to the Windrush generation also apply to other nationalities from the new Commonwealth. While the Windrush scheme is open to all Commonwealth nationalities, the narrow focus of the historical cases review means that the taskforce did not proactively contact non-Caribbean nationals in the same way that it did Caribbean nationals. I will return to the question of the Windrush compensation scheme and its outreach in a few minutes.

The Windrush compensation scheme is to be applauded in principle, but its record in practice, I am afraid, is lamentable. The scheme was unveiled in April 2019. By most estimates there is £200 million in the scheme and no upper limit on claims. That is to be welcomed, but since it was unveiled in 2019, only 1,108 claims have been made and only 36 people have received money. I could probably find 36 members of the Windrush cohort in my own borough of Hackney, let alone the country as a whole. Only £62,198 has been paid out. Those are shameful figures, and in their response to the new clauses, I want to hear from Ministers what they intend to do about the shamefully low pay-out.

As was said earlier, it is not surprising that people are reluctant to come forward, because their experience of the Home Office has been a punitive one. Some of them may be frightened that they could end up in a detention centre or worse. We in the Opposition believe that the Windrush compensation scheme needs a proper national campaign to encourage engagement among possible Commonwealth claimants. After all, I think £4 billion was spent on the EU settlement scheme. We need to spend comparable sums on outreach for the Windrush compensation, because this is a cohort of persons who came to this country quite a few years ago, and unless we do the outreach—positively, and with more resources behind it—and encourage them to claim, the danger is that they may never get the compensation to which they are entitled. Although of course their heirs and estates may get some of it, that is not the same as people getting an apology in their lifetimes, but also compensation.

I have said to the Minister and officials that I am happy to help with that outreach work—not as an apologist for the Government, but as someone who is very anxious that people should get what they are entitled to. The reason I think it is so important that people get what they are entitled to is not the money. As I have said before in the House, in the end, the cruellest thing for the Windrush cohort was not the problems, the difficulties, the possibility of deportation and all those practical things. The cruellest thing for the Windrush generation was the humiliation of being told by the British state that somehow they were not British or were trying to mislead the state in that matter.

This is a generation—I know something of it as my own parents were part of it—who came here with their UK and Colonies passports and believed that they were British. I will argue that it is the humiliation that cut to the quick. I have had various meetings in this House with members of the Windrush cohort, and that is the thing I come up against time and time again: how humiliated and hurt they felt to be, as it were, rejected by what they had always regarded as the mother country—a country they came to after the war to help to rebuild.

It is important to stress how poor the take-up has been and to say that Ministers must do more to encourage better take-up. We think that Ministers should consider putting the compensation scheme on a statutory basis. We also think it is important to stress that it applies not just to persons from the Caribbean but to people who came from other Commonwealth countries before January ’73 and people who had a right of abode or settled status and arrived to live in the UK before 31 December 1988.

We also think it is important that, in moving forward on the compensation scheme, which is so important to the people who have suffered, we look at all the important aspects of family life that were severed by the Windrush scandal, whether that was people being deported, people’s children not being able to establish their right to be here or the misery of people seeing their parents thousands of miles away, having been consigned to deportation by what seemed to them a very cruel state. I remember visiting Yarl’s Wood detention centre last year. There were women there who were married to British men and had British children but who, because they were caught up in the Windrush scandal, found themselves quite unfairly, having committed no crime, in a detention centre, and there were very many such cases.

We will be supporting the compensation scheme, because we think it is important that the money gets to the victims as soon as possible. The Opposition are happy to help in any way with outreach to encourage people to claim. Clearly, with the current public health situation, we cannot have meetings about it and so on, but there are other means—provided, possibly, by new media—by which more could be done on outreach.

The compensation scheme is important, but Ministers should not labour under the delusion that it draws a line under the iniquitous injustice of Windrush. Ministers should also not labour under the illusion that it is some act of charity. This is a scheme providing long overdue compensation for a cruel and unjust fate that befell a generation who came here with the best of intent to help this country in its time of need after the war.