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Windrush campaigners demand overhaul of ‘retraumatising’ compensation scheme

There have been "no attempts to try and support people on an emotional level" according to Windrush campaigner Patrick Vernon.
Patrick Vernon led the campaign for the annual day introduced in 2018 and is behind the “Fix the Windrush compensation scheme” petition, which has more than 86,000 supporters. Image: Patrick Vernon

Campaigners seeking justice for Windrush scandal victims are urging the British public to demand an overhaul of the government’s “re-traumatising” compensation scheme.

Hundreds of British citizens who came to the UK as part of the post-war Windrush generation were denied legal rights and wrongly deported during the Conservative government’s “hostile environment” immigration policy, it emerged in 2017, and have been promised compensation.

Patrick Vernon led the campaign for the annual day introduced in 2018 and is behind the “Fix the Windrush compensation scheme” petition, which has more than 89,000 supporters.

The political activist told The Big Issue: “The scheme’s not working. The Home Office is the wrong organisation to manage this scheme because it’s a perpetrator that caused the hostile environment in the first place.

“Speak to any of the victims, they will tell you it’s almost like they’re being retraumatised again and a lot of them are suffering from post-traumatic stress. There have been no attempts to try and support people on an emotional level.”

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The petition calls upon the government to make the application process easier, fund legal assistance and wellbeing for survivors and to send an apology with every compensation letter.

There’s still so much paperwork, there’s no empathy,” Vernon added. “You probably get better customer service from the pound shop.”

A Home Office spokesperson told The Big Issue “successive governments” had failed members of the Windrush generation and it was working with communities to ensure compensation reached those who deserved it.

Survivors and their families hope their petition will reach 100,000 signatures by Wednesday so they can take it to 10 Downing Street ahead of the fourth annual Windrush Day on June 22.

A National Audit Office (NAO) report released in May revealed fewer than 700 claims had been paid since the Windrush compensation scheme was introduced in April 2019. Figures revealed more than 2,000 claims were outstanding, which NAO said was due to it being announced before it was ready to receive applications. The research also showed claimants were waiting five times longer for payouts than the Home Office had anticipated. Devastatingly, 21 people have died while waiting for compensation, it emerged in May. 

“People are having to fight and the majority of the claims have gone to appeal and the appeal system is an internal process – there’s no independence. The Home Office marks its own homework. 

“The only way we’re going to get justice for the Windrush generation and their families is to have an independent body to manage and support the victims to access the claims that meet their needs so they can move on with their lives.”

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Victims who have shared their stories for the petition include Natalie Barnes, the daughter of Paulette Wilson who died in July 2020. Barnes said: “[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, who is still mourning the loss of her mum Sarah who 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, who had two spells of detention at Yarlswood immigration centre and whose life story was based on the  BAFTA-award winning BBC drama Sitting in Limbo said: “The Home Office took away my liberty, livelihood, sanity, and fellow friends and campaigners the late Sarah O’Connor and Paulette Wilson as 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 need urgently 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 13 years in the British Army, and was forced to remove his teeth as result of not having 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.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Windrush generation were repeatedly failed by successive governments and the Windrush Compensation Scheme is a pivotal part of our work to put things right.

“In December the Home Secretary overhauled the Compensation Scheme to pay more money more quickly and we are seeing the positive effects of those changes – the scheme has now offered almost £30 million, of which £20.4 million has been paid out to those affected.

“More payments are made every week, but we know that more needs to be done. That is why we are working closely with stakeholders and community leaders so that all those affected can get the compensation they deserve, as quickly as possible.” 

Sign the petition here.