What’s wrong with the Windrush compensation scheme? Almost everything

Ministers may try to push through a shoddy scheme in the dying days of a failed parliament in order to claim some kind of mythical victory, but in reality, countless people will continue to lose out

Diane Abbott voices 'grave' concerns on Windrush compensation scheme

Although the Windrush scandal has been widely discussed since January 2018, there is still no proper government compensation scheme in place. If that wasn’t enough of a misstep in itself, Tory ministers have also repeatedly refused to allow an interim system of hardship payments. All this in spite of the fact that people entitled to be here, British citizens, have been denied jobs, homes and public services.

Some of them were wrongfully kept in immigration detention or even deported. Because this is an ageing cohort, some of the victims have already died before there has been any redress.

Simply providing compensation for the losses incurred should be the least this government can do. It is quite true that successive governments treated the Windrush victims badly, including, unfortunately, Labour governments. But it was this government who introduced the 2014 Immigration Act, which is the legal basis for the “hostile environment”.

It is this Tory government policy which led directly to the scandal, just as many of us warned at the time that it would. The “hostile environment” demands that a whole range of public sector workers, nurses, teachers, police officers and DWP officials act as internal border guards, along with others in the private sector such as bank workers, landlords and employers.

If they were unable to see the relevant documents, they were supposed to report the victims as potential illegal immigrants. Of course, many in the Windrush generation, who actually come from all over the Commonwealth, were never provided with that documentation in the first place.

In order to redress a burning injustice like this, the government should take an open-handed and fair-minded approach. Instead it has done the opposite. When the compensation scheme was first announced, the Labour Party argued that it should be set on a statutory footing, like the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. One effect would be to ensure that the levels of compensation would be comparable to awards in civil cases.

But the government, seemingly driven by petty and vindictive penny-pinching, rejected this approach. In effect, it is treating victims of its own policies, the Windrush cohort and their descendants, as less worthy than victims of crime by a third party. Clearly, the treatment of Windrush victims as second-class citizens continues.

To give some examples, for those refused re-entry to this country – people who may have travelled abroad for a holiday, or family occasion – there is no specific compensation at all. Legal costs, which may be considerable, will not be met in full. It will be extremely difficult to recover unpaid tax credits, because HMRC doesn’t really do compensation at all.

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Those denied free higher education will have to pursue relevant colleges or universities and the Home Office will not pay them the compensation. For those deterred from entering higher education because of these unjustified fees, there are no remedies at all. And so it goes on, one injustice piling upon another. In fact, it has become increasingly clear that, in some cases, the Home Office itself will not be paying out any actual compensation. Instead it will be relying on third parties like the DWP to make good any financial loss caused by the Home Office’s own hostile environment policy.

It has recently been suggested that ministers cannot authorise payments without legislation, which is simply untrue. Although there has been talk in Westminster that the government may try to introduce this wholly inadequate compensation scheme into primary legislation soon.

But be wary. The truth is if they do indeed follow through, that ministers would be trying to railroad through a shoddy scheme in the dying days of a failed parliament. They will then, no doubt, want to claim this as a legacy for a prime minister who actually bears a great responsibility for the injustice in her time as home secretary. And that would be preposterous.

Labour opposes this shameful treatment of the Windrush victims. They deserve much better than this. We will continue to campaign for a fair, speedy and just compensation scheme. The Windrush generation deserve no less.

Diane Abbott is the shadow home secretary and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

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