Written evidence submitted by Dr Patrick Vernon OBE Windrush Campaigner, cultural historian and co author of 100 Great Black Britons
Since Patrick 2010 lead the campaign for national Windrush Day and in March 2018 kick-started the campaign for an amnesty for the Windrush Generation as part of the Windrush Scandal which over 180,000 signed his petition which contributed to an uturn in immigration policy and admission of guilty by the government. In April 2020 he launched another successful Windrush petition for the implementation of the Wendy William’s Lesson Learned Review. Over 130,000 people signed the petition which was presented to Number 10 by the late Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan in June 2020 which forced the government to make a commitment to the report by developing an action plan and cross government advisory group.
The Windrush Compensation scheme has been designed as a discretionary ex gratia payment to circumvent legal action in the courts by victims of the scandal has failed as still not meeting the needs around financial and emotional wellbeing of the victims and families. The recent NAO report in May 2021 highlights and, in many ways, make the case that the compensation scheme needs to remove from the Home Office. The scheme was not designed in the spirit and essence of restorative justice of righting the wring’ as the case workers and administration systems are not qualified and designed to deal in complex nature of the impact of on the financial, emotional, and cultural impact because of the hostile environment.
The bureaucracy and constant delayed further reinforces the anxiety and trauma on the victims and families. The scheme was not co designed with the victims but based on current processes which are part of the nature of structural racism in the Home Office and the ongoing implementation of the hostile environment policy which is now a public health issue with over 21 deaths in the UK and many thousands are experiencing post-traumatic stress (see my article in the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/oct/09/windrush-scandal-survivors-mental-health-care ).
Despite assurances by the Home Secretary that the scheme has had a major overall and more payments have been to the victims to the value of £30million. This is misleading as the average offer is still well below what they would receive if individuals would go to litigation. More fundamental there Windrush victims have no confidence in the Home Office as they are implementing the hostile environment policy where officials are working in the same directorate and the current head of the compensation is from an enforcement background. Public confidence and accountability are at the heart of the scheme which means this need to manage independently. I think we need to increase automatic payments from 10,000 (something I campaigned for over 2 years ago) to at least £20,0000. This will take in to account the constant delays in the administration of the scheme and take in to account the impact of covid-19 which had additional financial impact on families and their estates.
For the last 18 months I have been campaigning that the scheme should be removed from the Home Office and managed independently by a non-governmental agency to provide trust, respect, empathy and confidence to the victims and the families.
I have worked as a producer and curator of a series of radio shows/podcasts in partnership with the Black Cultural Archives and Colourful Radio called Windrush What Next exploring the compensation scheme and the legacy of the Windrush Scandal (https://www.colourful.com/podcasts/windrush-what-next ).
The series was dedicated to the late Windrush Campaigner Paulette Wilson who died in July 2020 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/14/paulette-wilson-remembered-by-patrick-vernon ).
We need to remove the scheme from the Home Office and establish a user-friendly scheme with legal assistance so survivors and their estates can claim for maximum awards. The government now needs to make this a priority in the same manner as the roll out of the covid vaccine and money spent on furlong and loans to businesses. I have launched a petition which over 60,0000 people have signed to support this campaign: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/improve-the-compensation-scheme-for-windrush-survivors-and-family-members
I am hoping that we get over 100,000 signatures so that several Windrush victims can present this to Number 10 ahead of Windrush Day on the 22nd of June.
Finally, I believe at the heart of the Home Office is deep seated anti Blackness (Afriphobia) and institutional racism in the conduct, behaviour and procedures of the Home Office staff, the executive and political leadership. The government like the recent debacle over the Tony Sewell report has failed to acknowledge and explore the impact of the scandal regarding structural racism demonstrates no commitment in righting the wrongs around the compensation scheme. I hope that the PAC will recommend the removal of the scheme so justice can prevail and the necessary support mechanisms in place around financial settlement, counselling, and housing support so people can move on with their lives.