Put Windrush compensation scheme under independent control, says Labour

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour has called on the government to take “urgent action to overhaul the Windrush compensation scheme” by placing the programme under “independent leadership in a new independent body”.

In a letter sent to Priti Patel ahead of Windrush Day on Tuesday, Nick Thomas-Symonds highlighted that just 687 people have received compensation out of the 11,500 people the Home Office estimated would be eligible for the scheme.

“Windrush Day is an historic day in our national story – and we owe the Windrush generation an enormous debt of gratitude,” the Shadow Home Secretary said.

“Shamefully, the mishandling of the Windrush compensation scheme by Conservative ministers has heaped insult upon injustice. The numbers speak for themselves, with fewer than 700 people receiving compensation and at least 21 people have died waiting for justice.

“Labour is calling for urgent action to overhaul the scheme, by placing it under independent leadership away from the Home Office. This is to help restore faith in the process and quickly get compensation to people who have been so appallingly treated. This injustice cannot continue.”

The government set up the compensation scheme after it emerged that Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the ‘Windrush generation’, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights by the Home Office.

The scheme aimed to compensate those affected and their families for the impact of the policies pursued against them. The programme of compensation has been widely criticised for its complexity and the lengthy wait for payments.

“This injustice cannot continue,” Labour’s Marsha de Cordova said today. “The Windrush compensation scheme must be placed under independent leadership away from the Home Office so that people can finally receive the compensation they deserve.”

A report on the compensation scheme by the National Audit Office in 2019 found that the programme “started accepting applications before it was ready” and was not “meeting its objective of compensating claimants quickly”.

In December last year, the Home Office announced changes to the compensation scheme including an increase in payments for “impact on life” and a commitment to make a preliminary payment as soon as impact on life had been established.

The Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities commented: “The Windrush scandal was an example of racial injustice, which is still experienced by many Black Caribbean people across British society.

“That is why the next Labour government will introduce a Race Equality Act, to systematically tackle structural and institutional racism.”

Keir Starmer committed last year to introducing a new Race Equality Act that would “tackle structural racial inequality at source” after a review by the party found that Covid had “thrived on” decades of structural discrimination.

De Cordova recently announced a series of public forums to inform the new legislation, which she said should be “shaped by lived experience”, with the first one held on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd last month.

In the letter to the Home Secretary, Thomas-Symonds also highlighted that the recommendations made in the Windrush ‘lessons learned’ review published in 2018, which Patel pledged to accept, have still not been implemented.

“We have yet to see tangible outcomes across the full set of 30 recommendations,” the Shadow Home Secretary wrote. “The lack of progress allows the shameful failings exposed by the review to continue.”

A Home Office spokesperson told LabourList: “We are determined to put right the terrible injustices faced by the Windrush generation by successive governments. This is why we established the compensation scheme, which was designed with independent oversight by Martin Forde QC.

“But we know there was more to do, which is why the Home Secretary overhauled the scheme last year. These changes are working, with nearly £30m now paid or offered and we continue to work hard to ensure people receive everything they are entitled to as quickly as possible.”

Below is the full text of the letter sent by Thomas-Symonds.

Dear Priti,

I write on Windrush Day on the matter of the Windrush compensation scheme.

As you will be aware, the recent findings from a National Audit Office report into the scheme were worrying and, crucially, exposed the fact that the scheme was ‘not meeting its objective of compensating claimants quickly’.

We owe the Windrush generation an enormous debt of gratitude for the incredible contribution they have made to our national story. Yet the Windrush Scandal highlighted how appallingly so many people have been treated.

In your statement on 23 June 2020, you said of the Windrush generation: “when Britain was in need, they answered the call.” This is undoubtedly true. Yet, sadly, when they have called on the government to act with decisiveness and ensure payments are appropriate for the injustices caused, their call has not been answered. In the same statement to Parliament, you claimed that “now is the time for more action.” However, this was almost exactly a year ago and progress since has been unacceptably slow.

This is a matter of grave importance and it is unacceptable that victims of the Windrush Scandal have been served so badly by this system. The Home Office’s own figures show that just 687 people have received compensated, from the 11,500 people the Home Office estimated might be eligible. Tragically, at least 21 people have died waiting for justice.

Furthermore, we are still awaiting a substantive update on the progress of the implementation of the Wendy Williams Review recommendations, all of which you pledged to accept. We have yet to see tangible outcomes across the full set of 30 recommendations. The lack of progress allows the shameful failings exposed by the review to continue.

This injustice cannot continue. That is why we are calling for urgent action to overhaul the Windrush compensation scheme, by placing it under independent leadership in a new independent body. This is to help restore faith in the process and get compensation quickly to people who have been appallingly treated. Almost 100,000 people have already signed a petition raising concerns about this issue and it has been supported by prominent figures with deep family ties to the Windrush generation.

The time for warm words is over – we need change without further delay.

I look forward to your urgent response.

Yours sincerely,

Rt Hon. Nick Thomas-Symonds MP
Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department

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