The victims of the Windrush scandal have not had justice
21 Jun 2019On Windrush Day, we must step up the fight against the government’s “hostile environment” policy.
It was recently revealed that, one year after the government recognised its “appalling” mistake in classifying thousands of legal UK residents as illegal immigrants, only 13 Windrush victims had been granted emergency financial support by the government by the end of April.
The very real effects of the Windrush scandal on people’s lives meant that many of those affected were pushed into poverty because of the combined effect of being forced out of their jobs and being told they were ineligible for benefits and healthcare that they were of course fully entitled to.
It is no exaggeration to say that lives have been destroyed.The Windrush scandal exposed a moral failure at the heart of this rotten government, and ever since it has failed repeatedly to put this grave injustice right.
The Home Secretary told the House of Commons last year that the government would “do whatever it takes to put it right” when it came to Windrush, yet the reality is that the Tories have been extraordinarily lax in carrying out their repeated verbal commitments to find out who are the victims of this scandal and what will be done to correct it.
In the aforementioned recent example of this, while the government finally agreed to launch a hardship fund at the end of last year, by the end of April only 91 people had applied for help and only 13 had received support, with 41 being rejected outright.
The scheme simply isn’t fit for purpose.The government has failed the Windrush generation, it has failed in its duty to protect its own citizens. As I said in the House of Commons, the government has to begin to acknowledge communities’ grave concerns about how it has failed when it comes to compensating victims of the Windrush scandal. Community voices up and down the country are clear in saying that it is not working.
My fellow Labour MP Helen Hayes is one of many who have heard this in their own constituency, and has eloquently explained why. She said last week that community groups in her constituency had described problems with the compensation scheme, pointing out that “the form is too complex, advice is neither accessible nor specialist enough, and the burden of proof is far too high,” adding that the government must “provide immediate funding for specialist legal advice to be available not just by phone but in person for every Windrush citizen who needs it.”
Yet the government refuses to understand that the compensation scheme simply isn’t working. It is also a matter of urgency that the government reconsiders some of the worst aspects of the current scheme, which are an insult to the victims.
One clear example of this is that it will currently not compensate those who may have been wrongly deported, with the relevant document saying “it is difficult to determine whether inability to return to the UK is a loss.” This position is ridiculous. Clearly someone being deprived of their home, job, family and community is a loss. When we look at all these developments, and continue the fight for justice, it’s important to remember that the Windrush scandal is a product of the government’s failed “hostile environment” approach to immigration, and that this whole approach needs to change if something like this isn’t to happen again.
The “hostile environment” approach is based on treating people as if they were illegal immigrants and shifting the burden of proof of to them to prove otherwise. Specifically, when it came to the Windrush scandal, many elderly victims were unable to produce what was deemed the necessary documentation.
Millions of people, here in Britain, in the Commonwealth and around the world, have been appalled at the treatment of the Windrush victims, and yet the Windrush scandal continues to rumble on, over one year on.
It is clear that the Tories simply cannot be trusted. Again and again, the government has failed the Windrush generation, it has failed in its duty to protect its own citizens, failed to properly examine how it created this scandal and continues to fail to address properly and openly the effects of that scandal.
We must keep up the pressure for justice for the victims of the Windrush. It is also time for the government to end the hostile environment for good. Unless and until it does, the reek of the Windrush scandal will forever be associated with this rotten government.
In contrast to the Tories, Labour will ensure that the Windrush generation gets the justice they deserve. And in government, we will end the Tories’ hostile environment to prevent these injustices being repeated.