The Windrush compensation scheme was set up in 2019 after it emerged that the Home Office had wrongfully denied British citizens, mostly from the Caribbean, access to work, healthcare and benefits. Some were threatened with deportation despite having the right to live in the UK.
The government promised to right the wrongs of what had happened, but the scheme has been repeatedly criticised for being too slow to compensate victims. As its fifth anniversary approaches, official figures show that dozens of those due to be compensated – including 10 in the past six months – have died while awaiting a payout.
It comes after Rishi Sunak announced a new compensation plan for those caught up in the Horizon IT scandal, which saw hundreds of subpostmasters prosecuted after faulty software made it appear as though money was missing from their branches when it wasn’t. Campaigners have now called on the government to ensure justice for those caught up in the Windrush scandal and the infected blood scandal.
Responding to a question on the issue from the Scottish National Party in the Commons this week, Tom Pursglove, the minister for legal migration, said: “In the unfortunate circumstances where a claimant has passed away after submitting a compensation claim, the team continues to work closely with the appointed representative to ensure the compensation payment is made as quickly as possible to the family member.
“Our priority is to ensure people receive the maximum compensation as quickly as possible,” the minister added.
Bell Ribeiro-Addy, Labour’s MP for Streatham, told The Independent: “This cruel government has proven yet again why the architects of a scandal cannot be trusted to put it right.
“They have stood by whilst even more Windrush victims have died without receiving a penny of justice; it has been clear from its inception that the scheme should have been independent of the Home Office.
“In this government’s hands, the Windrush compensation scheme is a scandal in itself.”
According to data published by the Home Office earlier this month, a little more than £75m had been paid out by the end of November.
Of the claims in the system at that point, 13 per cent had been waiting at least 12 months to be processed.
A new campaign backed by Baroness Doreen Lawrence and singer Annie Lennox has called for the “woeful” payout scheme to move faster.
The Justice4Windrush campaign is demanding “full and swift compensation” for victims of the scandal. Other high-profile supporters include actors Colin McFarlane and Hannah Waddingham, television presenter Jay Blades, plus more.
Speaking to The Independent, historian Kayne Kawasaski described the death toll as a “tragedy”.
“Each time another claimant dies without redress, Black Britons feel the ripple effect,” he told The Independent. When Britain needed help, the Windrush generation answered the call. Windrush claimants now need help for the wrongs they’ve experienced to be put right.
“How they’ve been treated by this government is unacceptable.”
The group have also called for the reinstatement of the team dedicated to dealing with the fallout from the scandal, which was wound up last year.
The Home Office said in September that the transformation programme for change in the wake of the scandal would no longer be managed through a dedicated team but rather “embedded into the fabric of our everyday operations and activities”. Meanwhile, the Windrush Working Group met for the final time, having been set up in June 2020 to bring community leaders together with senior representatives from government departments.
Last June marked the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush in the UK, commemorating the ship’s arrival in 1948, bringing people from the Caribbean who answered Britain’s call to help fill post-war labour shortages.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The government remains absolutely committed to righting the wrongs of the Windrush scandal and making sure those affected receive the compensation they rightly deserve.
“We have paid more than £75m in compensation and we continue to make improvements so people receive the maximum award as quickly as possible, whilst providing extensive support to help people access and apply to the compensation scheme.
“The scheme will remain open as long as it is needed, so no one is prevented from making a claim. We are continuing to reach out to, and engage with, communities across the UK to encourage more people to come forward, ensuring they have correct information on whether they may be eligible and necessary guidance to support their application.”