Thank you to everyone who got in touch about the Windrush Day Debate, secured by my Labour colleague Helen Hayes MP, which took place earlier this month. I know from the thousands of emails l have received in relation to the Windrush Scandal over the years that residents of Lewisham Deptford are appalled by the mistreatment of the Windrush generation and eager for justice to be delivered. Regrettably I was not able to speak at the debate so hope it will be helpful if I outline my thoughts on the issues it touched on.
Windrush Day presents an opportunity for everyone across the UK to recognise the contributions that the Windrush generation and their descendants have made to this country. It is vital that we celebrate their achievements, the impact they have had in our NHS, our cultural output and elsewhere. We must remember these histories, in our schools and in our community which is home to many Windrush elders. They crossed the Atlantic, often leaving their loved ones behind, following invitations to rebuild the UK in the post-war period. Despite the horrific levels of racism and discrimination they faced the Windrush generation forged community in South East London and elsewhere and it is vital that these histories are celebrated in our schools and wider community.
This Windrush Day we must not only celebrate the Windrush generation but continue to demand justice. Last March I wrote of my disappointment that the Government’s Windrush Compensation Scheme had not yet paid any compensation. Unacceptably, three years on since the Windrush scandal was exposed I still have constituents in Lewisham Deptford waiting for full compensation. Those affected did nothing wrong but, after giving so much to this country, had their lives upturned. They lost access to healthcare, the right to work, benefits and housing often facing destitution and deportation to countries they had not seen since they were children. Over a year ago the Home Secretary, Priti Patel MP, in response to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review stated that she was ‘truly sorry’. However, actions speak louder than words and time and again the Windrush Compensation Scheme has been shown to be not fit for purpose.
The Home Office estimates 11500 might be eligible for the scheme yet only 687 have received compensation and tragically at least 21 people have died waiting for justice. Those who are able to overcome the bureaucratic hoops put in the place by the scheme are awarded compensation, at levels which fail to recognise the trauma they faced and the challenges they face rebuilding their lives, with no mechanism to review independently. Tragically one constituent’s father had died whilst awaiting a decision on his Windrush application. Disgustingly his right to return to the UK was still pending authorisation from the Windrush task force. This cannot continue which is why earlier this month the Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, wrote to the Home Secretary demanding that control of the Windrush Compensation Scheme is urgently given to a new independent body which I fully support.
The Windrush Scandal and the Windrush Lessons Learned Review should have caused a seismic shift in the Conservative Government’s conduct and approach to not only the Windrush generation and their descendants but refugees and those seeking asylum in the UK today. The Review stated that any apology would be judged ‘by how far the Home Office demonstrates a commitment to learn from its mistakes by making fundamental changes to its culture and way of working’. Unfortunately, it seems that far too little has changed. Since the report was released we have seen the Government persist with deportation flights to Jamaica tearing families apart, the Home Office has housed vulnerable migrants in squalid conditions at Napier Barracks which were found to be unlawful, issues with the EU Settlement Scheme and the Conservatives callously voting against proposals to allow child refugees to be united with their families.
The Government may claim that the ‘hostile environment’, which the Equality and Human Rights Commission found broke equality law, is over but on a daily basis I am contacted by people facing precarity as they wait months and years for Home Office decisions. In 2014 87% of asylum applications received an initial decision within six months but by 2019 that number had plummeted to just 20%. I agree with the Home Secretary that our current system is broken but the Conservatives have had over a decade to fix it. The Windrush scandal and the ongoing failure to deliver justice has shown that the Home Office needs urgent reform to a system that is competent and centres compassion and human rights. Instead the Conservative Government have put together proposals in the New Plan for Immigration which have been described as ‘inhumane’ by the British Red Cross.
Over the past few months I have tabled a number of questions in relation to the Windrush scandal which can be viewed here. I can assure you myself and my Labour colleagues will continue to call for justice for the Windrush generation until it has been delivered as well as wider reform of the Home Office to ensure that nobody else is put through the same mistreatment.
Applications to the Windrush Compensation Scheme are still far lower than the estimated number of people affected. I know that it can be daunting but compensation is the bare minimum that those who have been put through this ordeal deserve. I encourage any residents of Lewisham Deptford who need assistance to get in touch by phone or email and I will do all that I can to support any claimants and connect them with the support that is out there.