It’s Disingenuous for the Government to Celebrate Windrush Day

Helen Hayes MP flags the Government’s ongoing failures - which continue to devastate the lives of those affected by the Windrush Scandal.


The Government promised to right the wrongs of the Windrush scandal, but are failing to do so. An evaluation of the Windrush compensation scheme published by the National Audit Office in May found that the scheme had paid compensation to fewer than 700 victims and had 2,000 claims outstanding. The report also highlighted mistakes and poor-quality assurance, the high proportion of the scheme’s funding that has been spent on staff, and the low number of victims who have come forward to make a claim compared with the estimated total number of victims. Appallingly, 21 victims have died while still waiting to receive compensation.


Listen to the words of some of the victims and their families. Natalie Barnes, the daughter of Paulette Wilson, who died in July 2020, says that the:


“Home Office still operates the hostile environment policy which contributed to the death of my mother. Before she passed, she was struggling with the forms and lack of support and respect from the Home Office. The scheme needs to be moved so there is proper justice to families like mine.”


Stephanie O’Connor, whose mother, Sarah, moved to the UK in 1967 and died in July 2019, said:


“For my mum the compensation scheme has come too late, and I am so disappointed that it is still taking this long for people to get what is owed to them. I just hope that people get compensated fairly for everything that they have been through.”


Anthony Bryan, whose utterly devastating experience, including two periods of detention in Yarl’s Wood, was the basis for the BBC drama Sitting in Limbo, said:


“The Home Office took away my liberty, livelihood, sanity, and fellow friends and campaigners…as a result of the hostile environment. They have offered me a compensation package which does not reflect what I need to build my life again and to move forward with my family. We urgently need an impartial and independent organisation to support all compensation claims and to provide mental health and wellbeing support. The Home Secretary is not righting the wrongs to sort out the Windrush Scandal.”


Anthony Williams, who served for 13 years in the British Army and was forced to remove his own teeth as a result of being denied access to dental care due to the scandal, said:


“The Home Office have no experience or track record in running a compensation scheme for people traumatised.”


These testimonies point to the urgent need for the administration of the Windrush compensation scheme to be taken away from the Home Office and handed to an independent body. 


Yesterday was the deadline for EU nationals living in the UK to apply for settled status. In that scheme, the Government have yet again put an administrative barrier in front of people who have made their home in the UK and contributed to our country in multiple different ways. It risks making them illegal, with all the appalling consequences that would bring. The Government have not only failed to address the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal or to deliver justice for its victims; they are laying the foundations of the next scandal.


In response to the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on black and Asian residents during the first wave, the Government set up the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell. It had been hoped that the report would provide a rigorous analysis of racial and ethnic inequality in the UK and a detailed action plan that could be implemented with urgency to address it. Instead, the Sewell Report left many black, Asian and minority ethnic residents, including many of my constituents who I have spoken to since it was published, feeling that their own Government were trying to gaslight them by denying that there is structural racism in the UK. The report has been condemned by respected organisations, including the Runnymede Trust and Black Cultural Archives, which I am proud is based on Windrush Square in my constituency.


Black Cultural Archives, the only organisation dedicated to the collection, preservation and celebration of black history in the UK, criticises the report for its absence of historical context and selective quoting of evidence and concludes that a report so lacking in rigour cannot provide the basis for meaningful action to address racism and racial inequality.


One of the ways in which we can stop a Windrush scandal happening again is by ensuring that our children are taught British history in an inclusive way that tells the story of our complex history of migration and the painful reality and legacy of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. That is not rewriting history; it is our shared history. Many schools have already developed good curriculum content, including some in my constituency, but that now needs to be expanded to all our schools. The Government have, in accepting the recommendations in Wendy Williams’ lessons learned review, accepted the importance of the teaching of history in preventing a future Windrush scandal. The Government have accepted that as being necessary for all Home Office staff, so it follows that it is also necessary for our schools.


Finally, will the Government support the campaign to raise the anchor from the Empire Windrush, which currently lies off the coast of Libya on the Mediterranean seabed, so that it can be displayed as part of the 75th Windrush anniversary celebrations in 2023? It is a tangible piece of that famous ship, which could be used to tell the story of the remarkable Windrush generation for years to come.


We celebrate today the remarkable Windrush generation—British citizens and part of our national DNA—who have contributed so much and suffered such appalling injustice. Celebration, however, is hollow while injustice and inequality continue.

7th July 2021