By Giorgia Vittorino
It has been two years since the Windrush scandal came to public attention in 2018.
The scandal, which surfaced during Theresa May’s administration, resulted in hundreds of Caribbean immigrants falling victim to unjust immigration enforcement, with many being detained and deported. Those who had arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1973, and consequently had lived and worked legally in the UK for decades, were accused of being illegal immigrants and denied access to benefits, healthcare and employment.
Since the scandal came to light, little progress has been made to rectify the mistakes of the Home Office, shortfalls abound in the government’s response. An independent review conducted in March this year, the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, concluded that the Home Office immigration policies are to blame for the crisis. In 2012, the Home Office adopted a “hostile environment” policy to immigration, under which immigrants are obliged to prove their status as UK citizens in order to access healthcare, public services and employment.
According to the review, the Home Office showed “ignorance and thoughtlessness”, finding that tightening immigration regulations had “complete disregard for the Windrush generation.”
Windrush compensation Scheme
In 2019, the government responded to criticism by announcing the Windrush Compensation Scheme, which intended to provide compensation for victims. Government figures estimated that between £200m and £500m would be paid to victims in compensation.Over 1,270 claims have been made to the scheme.
The scheme has come under criticism in recent months for failing to live up to its promises. The majority of those entitled to compensation are going without, as payments are not being issued. In the first 10 months of the scheme, only 3% of all applications received any compensation. Home Office figures from May this year indicate that only 60% of payments have been made.
A national shame
Delays in compensation are so criminally slow that victims are dying before receiving their payments. According to MP Priti Patel, at least five people have died before receiving compensation after making claims to the Home Office. In reality, this figure is likely to be much higher, as the real numbers of those affected remain unknown.
Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson died age 64, whilst awaiting compensation from the government. After being wrongly detained and threatened with deportation, Wilson became a campaigner for the Windrush victims. Without Wilson’s campaigns, the Windrush scandal may never have been brought to light.
Sadly, Paulette Wilson is not the only victim to have died before receiving compensation. Relatives of Windrush victims have warned that their relatives may die before receiving any compensation. Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight, Samantha Barnes spoke about her father, Clayton Barnes. When asked if he had been granted citizenship, she responded. “No not at all. We received a letter to say that once he remains in the country for a further five years, he can then apply for citizenship.
“That’s only an application that’s not a guarantee of citizenship. My father might not even be alive in five years, he’s already 84.”
Delays to payments are unjustifiable given that, amongst a wealth of other reasons, the Windrush Generation are an ageing population. Speaking on these delays, Labour MP Yvette Coopersaid “Delays mean some of those who faced terrible injustice will have died before ever seeing a payment.
The response from Johnson’s government
In July, Priti Patel made an announcement in response to the findings of the Windrush Learned Lessons Review. The Home Secretary promised to make changes to the Home Office, beginning with the rebranding of the “hostile environment” policy into the “compliant environment” policy. Patel intends to make changes to the Home Office by creating a more tolerant and welcoming response to immigration.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Patel said: “What happened to the Windrush generation is unspeakable, and no one with a legal right to be here should ever have been penalised.I’ve tasked my officials to undertake a full evaluation of the compliant environment policy and measures, individually and cumulatively, to make sure the crucial balance is right.”
Patel has since laid out five key areas for change in the Home Office. These include mandatory training for all Home Office staff on the history of race and migration; a more inclusive workforce; a commitment to inclusive policy making; a compassionate approach towards immigration and ensuring that the Home Office remains open to scrutiny.
“Sitting in Limbo”
In June, the BBC broadcast the drama ‘Sitting in Limbo’, inspired by the story of Anthony Bryan who arrived in the UK legally age eight. After being accused of being an illegal immigrant, Bryan was unable to work, use the NHS nor claim his pension. He was placed in a detention centre and threatened with deportation to Jamaica.
Similar to Bryan, the majority of Windrush victims arrived in the UK as children, many on their parents’ passports. Thus, many do not possess necessary documents to prove UK citizenship under the “hostile environment” policy. When victims have provided documents, many have been told by the Home Office that their documents are “unsatisfactory”.
The “hostile environment” policy and the culture within the Home Office has created animosity and suspicion towards the Windrush victims, making it increasingly difficult for them to prove their citizenship. A former Home Office employee revealed to the Guardian in 2018, that the Home Office had knowingly destroyed thousands of landing slip cards that logged the arrival dates of Windrush victims.
The epilogue to Sitting in Limbo reminds viewers of the failures of the Windrush Compensation Scheme. The epilogue states, “the Home Office revealed that by February 2020 there were 1,108 applicants to the Windrush Compensation Scheme, of which only 36 had been granted any money. As of May 2020, Anthony has yet to receive any compensation.”
“In 2019, 83 members of the Windrush generation were confirmed to have been deported, despite having the right to live in the UK. At least 13 of these people died before the Home Office acknowledged the mistake.”
The Windrush generation that first arrived in Britain came in 1948, encouraged by the government to help rebuild the nation following World War Two. The mistreatment of the very men and women who helped to rebuild our nation highlights how imperative the legacy of imperialism has remained to British governance. Those born to Commonwealth citizenship have been seen by the government and the Home Office as an ‘other’, denied the rights and privileges of those born British.