Dick Newby: Individual stories of Windrush victims shame politicians who use pejorative language and stoke up resentment

In the Lords recently, Dick Newby talked about the lives of Windrush Generation people damaged because of the actions of the Home Office and the need for a compensation scheme.

His whole speech is below:

The individual stories of victims of the Windrush scandal are of lives damaged and destroyed because of the actions of the Home Office. They shame every politician who, over decades of public debate, has chosen to use pejorative language and stoke up resentment about decent people legitimately living in the United Kingdom and contributing to our economy and our​way of life. It is particularly poignant that we are discussing this scandal when those of a BAME back- ground, and those of a Caribbean background, are making such a major contribution, at a disproportionate cost of their own lives, in fighting the coronavirus crisis.

The Bill before us is extremely brief and its aim obviously worthy, but its very language—that it is providing compensation

“in recognition of difficulties arising out of an inability to demonstrate … immigration status”—

shows how the Home Office got into this mess in the first place. We are in this mess primarily because Home Office officials failed to recognise the rights of the Windrush generation to British citizenship, and applied the law disproportionately and insensitively in a manner that brought about the scandal. We are not in this mess primarily because of failings on the part of the victims of the injustice.

On the compensation scheme itself, I have a number of questions. First, the impact assessment states that the cost will be between £20.5 million and £301.3 million. The fifteenfold degree of uncertainty is almost certainly unprecedented and suggests that the Home Office really has no idea of the true scale of the problem. Can the Minister explain why such a high degree of uncertainty still exists?

The latest figures we have show that, of 1,108 claims, only 36 awards have been made, at an average award of just over £1,700. Therefore, the number of claimants is low, the number of claims accepted is low, and the amount of compensation looks—to me at least—low. Can the Minister give any indication of how long the Home Office is taking to deal with claims on average and, of the applications so far made, what proportion have been accepted, either in whole or in part, and what proportion rejected?

Despite what the Minister said in her opening speech, is she really satisfied that the claim form does not discourage claimants, given that it is 18 pages long and comes with 44 pages of notes? Will she consider simplifying it in the light of experience? What help is the Home Office prepared to give to those—particularly the old and vulnerable—who will find completing the form by themselves a simply insurmountable challenge?

The number of people who have so far come forward is a very small proportion of the possibly eligible claimants. The noble Baroness talked about looking to the citizens advice bureaux and national tendering for support, but does she accept that the most effective support for many claimants will be from small, very locally based community and faith groups and civil society organisations? Does she accept that some people who do not have the relevant documentation, or who have a criminal record, are holding back from making claims because they retain a fear of being deported? For such people, the work of the local intermediaries I have just mentioned will be crucial, if they are ever to make a claim at all.

What efforts has the Home Office made to publicise the scheme to those currently living in the Caribbean? What support will they get in completing their applications?

As this is a money Bill, we cannot have a proper debate in Committee about the details of the scheme. To me, some of the tariffs and caps look low and arbitrary. Why is denial of access to higher education ​limited to compensation of £500, for example, when the average benefit of a degree to an individual’s lifetime earnings is many times that amount? Why, unlike other large-scale compensation schemes such as PPI, are legal and other fees not eligible? Why is interest on such outgoings not eligible?

If the Government really want to ensure that all those who could possible benefit do so, why have they set a deadline for claims of two years from now? Why not make it longer—for, say, five or six years?

Finally, why are some components of the claim required to meet criminal standards of proof—the very requirement which led to some of the worst injustices in the first place and which is justified neither in law nor by common humanity?

The reason such detailed questions matter is that unless they are satisfactorily resolved, the compensation scheme will fail in its purpose. It will not be accessed by many who are entitled to do so, and it will become another source of grievance, rather than helping to bring an element of closure to those directly involved. But even if the compensation scheme is successful and all those who are eligible to receive compensation do so in a full and timely manner—that is a very big if—it can deal with only one aspect of the past failings of the Home Office.

As Wendy Williams eloquently points out in the introduction to the recommendations section of her review, there are three elements to her recommendations on what needs to change. The first and easiest is to

“acknowledge the wrong which has been done”.

The Government have largely done this; the compensation scheme is part of that acknowledgement. The other two elements are arguably of even greater importance. They are that the Home Office

“must open itself up to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people and … should be rooted in humanity.”

To me, this last phrase is the crux of the problem and the challenge now facing the Home Secretary and her senior officials. It is abundantly clear from reading the review, and from press coverage of the Windrush scandal over the past three years, that Home Office action has not been rooted in humanity. If it had, the distressing individual cases which pepper the review could simply not have happened.

How is this approach to be changed? The review makes some 30 recommendations, all of them very sensible. I would be grateful for any further information the Minister can give on how the Government will respond to and implement them. For me, there are two central things which have to change. First, we must see an end to the demonisation and belittling of those who live in the UK and who come from a different country or culture. The history of immigration policy over the last 50 years has been for Governments to welcome the economic contributions made by immigrants and indigenous BAME communities but all too often to pander to intolerance and the semi-racist language of parts of our national media.

The hostile environment was not just a Home Office policy. It was what immigrants and BAME communities faced in their daily lives. While the worst excesses of the discrimination faced by the Windrush generation ​have been removed by legislation and changing social mores, the discrimination faced by many Europeans, who have also settled in the UK over several decades, has increased exponentially in recent years, since the Brexit referendum vote.

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that those working in the Home Office have often reflected the culture around them rather than showing the humanity which we ought to have expected, particularly when ministerial rhetoric has inflamed rather than calmed public debate on the issue. Today, the Government lost a High Court case which found that the right-to-rent scheme causes racial discrimination. They could signal a new approach to these issues by scrapping that scheme. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that they plan to do so.

The second thing that has to change—which the Covid-19 crisis and Brexit will, I fear, make more difficult—is that the resources in the Home Office have to match the task in hand. If you ask officials to achieve an ever-increasing throughput of cases with ever-diminishing resources, they simply do not have time to deal with them thoughtfully and with the thoroughness which the applicants have every right to expect. A change of culture and the increased resources needed to make it possible are now urgently required, not just to deal with remaining Windrush cases but because there is a danger of similar injustices flowing from the operation of the EU settled status scheme. Some of the case histories from this, which have already received publicity, have all the hallmarks of another Windrush scandal in the making.

These broader issues will rightly be the subject of the debate on 6 May. In the meantime, I hope that the Government will look carefully at the issues which I and other noble Lords raise on the Bill today, to ensure that the Windrush compensation scheme achieves its stated aims and does not become another source of grievance.

 

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5 Comments

  • R A Underhill 2nd May '20 - 1:25pm

    I saw this speech on the Parliament Channel on the day, was impressed and asked Liberal Democrat Voice to carry it. I am glad that it has now done so and recommend that others should read it in full.
    Those who have views on reform of the Lords may wish to consider whether they want to select and elect the ablest candidates. David Steel’s bill on voluntary retirement is law, but he was right to say that the current system of bye-elections in the Lords is farcical.
    Since the coalition Labour’s spokesman in the Commons has become mayor of London

  • Good speech by Dick Newby. Everytime there is an article about the Home Office on LDV liberal democrats shudder about the sheer awfulness of that department and so many of the people who work there.
    I have often wondered about countries where physical and mental torture are common – countries like China, Syria and Egypt. How do they recruit people to do these despicable things? Do they seek out sociopaths and psychopaths or do nasty people just find their way there?
    I wouldn’t want to push that analogy too far to our own country where torture is clearly beyond the pale. Yet how does the Home Office come to have so many people working for it who totally lack humanity and empathy? Is it institutional racism? Do they put job applicants through psychometric testing to weed out those who might be too nice for the jobs? Do some people look for jobs where they can be beastly to others? Something is deeply wrong in the Home Office.
    And what about Home Secretaries? In my life time I can only remember one for whom I had any respect – Roy Jenkins. He did challenge the culture of the Home Office at the time. His successors for the most part have accepted it and some have clearly relished it. Yasmin Alibhai Brown made a devastating but fair critique recently of previous Home Secretaries in the I newspaper in 2019. https://inews.co.uk/opinion/sajid-javid-home-secretary-amber-rudd-theresa-may-511380 How will the present one stand up to scrutiny I wonder?

  • Sue Sutherland 3rd May '20 - 3:06pm

    This is an excellent speech by Dick Newby. I would like to see our party adapt the principles of community politics to national politics. Essentially community politics seeks to avoid this kind of injustice by involving people in local decision making and giving them a voice. Here we have a community under threat from a government department which is exactly why community politics was invented at local level. There should be a method of counteracting discrimination like this at the point at which decisions are made so that the situation doesn’t escalate like this.
    We all want to see a change in the voting system but I think we should also be looking at the wider democratic picture to reform how government departments work. I’m sorry that I have no knowledge of how the existing system works so I’m unable to make any detailed suggestions, but the Home Office isn’t the only one to use long and complicated forms.

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