Labour has called on the government to introduce an emergency cash fund to help people affected by the Windrush scandal, after ministers admitted they have not yet decided any of the details of a planned compensation scheme.
On the 70th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Windrush in the UK, shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the hardship fund was needed to help people who have been “left destitute by the Home Office” as a result of “totally unacceptable” delays.
She accused Sajid Javid, the home secretary, of “dragging his feet” after ministers admitted they are yet to decide any of the details of their promised compensation scheme for Windrush citizens.
Theresa May has promised that any Windrush citizens wrongly caught up in the government’s clampdown on illegal immigration will be entitled to apply for compensation.
Last month, the Home Office launched a “call for evidence” asking affected communities to send in their views on how the scheme should work. This closed at the start of June, but the results are yet to be published.
It will be followed by a full consultation, although this has not yet been launched and it remains unclear how long it will run for or when the details of the scheme will be confirmed.
Ms Abbott said: “Today, as we mark the 70th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush, many of our fellow citizens have been left destitute by the Home Office and the government’s hostile environment policy.
“They cannot wait months for a consultation to be concluded on the government’s promised compensation scheme. The Home Office’s hostile environment policy has left British citizens in debt, jobless, denied access to the benefits to which they are entitled and even homeless."
She added: “The Home Secretary must act to urgently establish a hardship fund to support these people ahead of the promised compensation scheme, which will clearly not be up and running for months.
“The Home Secretary is dragging his feet and has failed to even confirm when the compensation scheme will finally be set up. This is totally unacceptable. If the Home Secretary is to keep his promise to put this crisis right then he needs to act now”.
“Our fellow citizens have already been put through enough. It is totally unacceptable that Windrush citizens are now suffering further hardship because of government delays on the promised compensation scheme. Windrush citizens need help and support now after many of them have been left in debt, jobless and denied access to benefits all as a direct result of the Home Office’s hostile environment”.
Labour has not said how big the hardship fund should be because the government has not released details of how many Commonwealth citizens were caught up in the Windrush scandal.
Ms Abbott has written to Mr Javid demanding the information be made public after The Independent revealed that dozens of people born in India, Pakistan and Ghana had also been affected.
The home secretary said this week that the compensation scheme will be launched “as quickly and as carefully as possible”. The full consultation will be established “in due course” and the final arrangements announced “as soon as possible” after that has concluded, he added.
Asked about the issue last week, Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, said: “The government is clear that where the Windrush generation have suffered loss, they will be compensated. As a first stage, the Home Office has launched a call for evidence as an opportunity for those who have been affected, and their families, to tell us what happened, how it affected them and what they believe the compensation scheme needs to address.
“We have not decided any details of the scheme. It is important that we don’t rush to judgement and as a first step we need to listen to those affected, before we can engage on the details of a scheme.”
The Windrush scandal engulfed the government earlier this year after it was revealed that some people living in the UK legally had lost homes, healthcare and jobs and, in some cases, been deported.
The row forced the resignation of the then home secretary, Amber Rudd, after she appear to mislead MPs about the Home Office’s use of deportation targets.
The influential Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has also called on ministers to introduce a hardship fund for Windrush citizens.
Yvette Cooper, the committee’s chair, said: “Some of the Windrush generation are facing destitution. People are having to settle legal bills, or are facing bailiffs due to debts run up when they were forced to give up work or had their social security payments stopped through no fault of their own. The government must step in to help people immediately.
“Due to the seriousness of this issue, the committee has agreed an urgent short report recommending that the Government create a hardship fund, immediately, for those of the Windrush generation facing financial difficulties.
“It is vital that the details of the compensation scheme are publicised and all those affected are directed towards it, and in the meantime that those individuals in need of immediate assistance are given it."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies