Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel should to be stripped of her responsibility for the Windrush compensation scheme due to her department’s “truly shameful” treatment of victims, a cross-party group of MPs has said.
Thousands of people who arrived legally in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries have “yet to receive a penny”, four years after the compensation programme was launched, politicians said.
In its damning report, the Commons Home Affairs Committee outlined the “litany of flaws” blighting the scheme set up after the Windrush scandal, which broke in April 2018.
The embarrassing episode for the government saw thousands of legal immigrants who had lived in the country for decades denied access to health care, the right to work and, in some cases, threatened with deportation due to a lack of official paperwork.
The blunders happened as a result of Home Office policies.
Janet McKay, who spent her life savings fighting to keep her husband in the UK after he faced deportation, described the compensation process as "a headache”.
“The people you’re dealing with really don’t understand where you’re coming from, I don’t think so anyway,” she told BBC Breakfast. “They treat you like you’re nobody.”
Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the committee, told BBC Breakfast it was “simply wrong” that only 5 per cent of eligible applicants to the scheme had received compensation four years after it was set up.
She stressed the urgency of the scheme, referring to the victims as “an ageing generation who were so badly wronged by Home Office failures”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Cooper said Home Office officials had been “repeatedly asking for documentation that doesn’t exist, for paper that no one could be expected to have”.
She said some people who applied to the scheme had been asked to show “impossible documentation” such as payslips for jobs for which they were turned down because they could not prove they were British.
The problems, she said, had “compounded the injustice and the trauma” suffered by victims of the Windrush scandal.
She called on the government to offer initial payments to every victim within two months “without making them prove the exact level of harm” caused to them by Home Office blunders.
Ms Cooper said the committee recommended higher payouts for people who had lost out on earnings and a pension as a result of the errors that led to the scandal.
The all-party committee of MPs has called for the scheme to be handled by an independent organisation instead of the Home Office, to increase trust and encourage more people to come forward.
They argued that the programme contained the same “bureaucratic insensitivities” that led to the Windrush scandal in the first place, which was a “damning indictment of the Home Office”.
By the end of September 2021, only 20.1 per cent of the initially estimated 15,000 eligible claimants had applied, 5.8 per cent had received any payment and 23 people had died without receiving compensation, they said.
“The treatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments and the Home Office was truly shameful,” the committee said in its report.
“No amount of compensation could ever repay the fear, the humiliation and the hurt that was caused both to people and to communities affected.”
It was “deeply troubling” that the Home Office’s handling of claims “has repeated the same mistakes which led to the Windrush scandal in the first place”.
MPs said those applying for compensation face a “daunting application process”, involving “unreasonable requests for evidence” and were “left in limbo in the midst of inordinate delays”.
“Too often, injustice has been compounded rather than compensated," the committee said. “This is unacceptable and must not continue.”
The MPs welcomed changes introduced in December 2020 to improve the system but said the reforms had not gone far enough.
Ms Cooper said it was “truly shocking how few people have received any compensation for the hardship they endured at the hands of the Home Office”.
She said the deaths of 23 members of the Windrush generation before they had received compensation was “particularly distressing”.
“Urgent action is needed to get compensation to those who have been so badly wronged," she said.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said Ms Patel and the department “remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive every penny of compensation that they are entitled to”.
She said Ms Patel’s overhaul of the scheme last year led to payments being issued quicker.
“Since then the amount of compensation paid has risen from less than £3 million [$4m] to over £31.6 million, with a further £5.6 million having been offered,” the spokeswoman said.
“We are pleased this report welcomes the changes made to the scheme in December and we continue to make improvements, such as simplifying the application process, hiring more caseworkers and removing the end date," the spokeswoman said.
“We firmly believe that moving the operation of the scheme out of the Home Office would risk significantly delaying vital payments to those affected.”
The Home Office said there is no cap on the amount of compensation paid to Windrush victims.