Expenditure on the Windrush Compensation Scheme

Part of Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 24th March 2020.

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Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:19 pm, 24th March 2020

It is very important, even in the context of the crisis we face, that the Government have made time to progress this piece of legislation. My constituency of Dulwich and West Norwood has a strong and direct connection to Windrush, since about 200 of the passengers on the original Empire Windrush came first to Clapham Common to find temporary accommodation in the Clapham deep shelter before finding their way to Coldharbour Lane in Brixton to find work.

From there, many of them found work locally at King’s College Hospital, where they helped to establish our NHS. It is particularly poignant to be debating the Bill at this time as many members of the Windrush generation, and indeed their descendants, still work still in that hospital, desperately seeking to save lives that are at risk from covid-19.

My constituency is home to many members of the Windrush generation and their families. It is also now home to the Black Cultural Archives, which sits proudly on Windrush Square. Later in my speech, I will return to the role that the Black Cultural Archives have played in the context of the Windrush scandal and compensation.

The impact of the Windrush scandal has been profound and devastating. In my team, we knew there was a scandal years before it was a story in the news. As my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott was absolutely right to clarify, the scandal affects people from across the Commonwealth and not only from the Caribbean.

Indeed, our first Windrush case was a constituent who had arrived in the UK from Sierra Leone, decades ago. She was asked to provide proof of her status in the UK when she applied for her state pension, but she had arrived at the age of 14 with somebody who may or may not have been a relative. She did not have any papers. Despite her whole life being in the UK, having worked all her adult life, raised five children and having no remaining connections at all in Sierra Leone, the UK Government threatened deportation. Her case was a scandal; we just did not know at the time that it was the Windrush scandal.

We saw many more cases and, eventually, the bigger picture was revealed. I pay tribute to the work of Amelia Gentleman in exposing, in such a forensic way, the extent and depth of the scandal up and down the country.

The consequences have been profound—not simply the grave injustice and material detriment suffered by thousands of people. It is a moment that gives rise to the need for deep reflection on our national identity and sense of community. That a group of people who have contributed so much could be treated so appallingly shows that something had gone badly wrong in our understanding of who we are as a country and, notwithstanding the compensation scheme, there is more work to do on that, particularly on reform of the history curriculum and what we teach our children about migration and colonialism. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to that.

My constituents’ experience of the compensation scheme to date has been very poor. The scandal itself was a fundamental breach of trust, and many people have not felt confident to come forward. Despite the Minister’s remarks in Committee, the form is complicated, and it is very easy to omit key details.

I sat down with one of my constituents to fill out the form on behalf of her mother, and it was only when we had worked through all 18 pages of it that I asked: “Is there anything else that you think your mother suffered as a consequence of being a victim of the Windrush scandal?” She then said, very quietly, “She lost her home. She was renting privately and, because she was not allowed to return to the UK, her home was repossessed by the landlord and she lost all her possessions, because there was nobody who could manage that and reclaim any of her belongings for her.”

That would not have been captured on the form had it not been for my prompting question at the end. Almost every one of my constituents who I have spoken has found it difficult to capture all the information on the form. Because of their experience with the Home Office, they fear the level of proof and the extent of evidence that will be required, and this is not an easy process for them.

The support that has been provided through the CAB has not been accessible or sufficiently expert, so it has been left to the voluntary sector, to pro bono lawyers and to organisations such as the Black Cultural Archives, which has done a heroic job but struggled to cope with the need. I welcome the proposals for a fund for grass-roots support that the Home Secretary recently announced, and I would welcome assurances from the Minister that some of that funding will be allocated to the BCA, which has done an extraordinary job—not only local but national in its reach—because it is trusted by the community.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington was right to highlight the need for a publicity campaign for the compensation scheme. I hope the Government will give serious consideration to the content of such a publicity scheme and to who fronts it. The first community meeting to launch the compensation scheme was organised in my constituency at a day’s notice. I was not informed as the local MP, many members of my community had no idea that the meeting was going ahead, and those who did were fearful of it being a meeting with the Home Office because of the breach of trust that I described earlier.

Finally, I wish to make a plea that has been made already in the public domain by Patrick Vernon, to whom I pay tribute as somebody who has campaigned relentlessly on behalf of Windrush citizens. Will the Government hand the administration of the scheme to another Government Department? The Home Office may have accepted the lessons learned review, and that is welcome, but it has not yet implemented the scale and depth of culture change that the review demands. As recently as last month, the Home Office was having to remove people from a charter deportation flight after a court decided that the Department had not followed due processes. The assurance that the Minister has tried to provide indicates a lack of understanding of exactly the extent of the breach of trust that has been caused by the Windrush scandal and the wider hostile environment. People are simply fearful of the Home Office and its capacity to ruin lives.

This has been an utterly shameful period in our history. The compensation scheme is welcome and important, but I hope the Government realise the breadth and depth of the work that they still need to do to change culture and rebuild trust. There is still a long way to go.