A UK government compensation scheme for migrants, many of whom came from the Caribbean to rebuild Britain after World War II, has paid out on just 5% of potential claims, British lawmakers say.
In recent years, the British government has been heavily criticized for its treatment of migrants who traveled across the Atlantic on the Empire Windrush passenger liner, and their descendants. Some of the individuals, who have a legal right to live in the UK, have struggled to prove their immigration status and have been refused medical care, denied housing and deported or threatened with deportation.
A damning new report from the House of Commons’ influential Home Affairs Select Committee published Wednesday said the scheme, created in 2019, had “become a source of further trauma rather than redress, and others have been put off from applying for the scheme altogether.”
As of the end of September, only 20.1% of the estimated 15,000 people expected to be eligible for compensation had applied, and only 5.8% of claimants had received a payment, the cross-party committee found. MPs also found that 23 people eligible individuals had died before receiving compensation.
The committee report said the scheme was plagued by a “litany of flaws” with an “excessive burden” on applicants to provide evidence of losses suffered, protracted applications and payment processing, insufficient staffing of the scheme and a failure to provide exceptional payments to individuals in urgent need.
The report found that rather than rectify past mistreatment, the scheme had “compounded the injustices” people had faced. It acknowledged reforms introduced last December to expedite payments, but said the changes had not gone far enough. The committee recommended further action, suggesting the scheme – currently under Home Secretary Priti Patel – be transferred to an independent organization to rebuild trust and bolster applications.
“The treatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments was truly shameful,” MPs said in the report. “No amount of compensation could ever repay the fear, humiliation, hurt and hardship that was caused to individuals who were affected.”
The committee added: “That the design and operation of this scheme contained the same bureaucratic insensitivities that led to the Windrush scandal in the first place is a damning indictment of the Home Office, and suggests that the culture change it promised in the wake of the scandal has not yet occurred.”
Committee chair Yvette Cooper, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said: “It has been four years since the Windrush scandal emerged and it is truly shocking how few people have received any compensation for the hardship they endured at the hands of the Home Office.
“Urgent action is needed to get compensation to those who have been so badly wronged,” she added.
Cooper continued that she found it “staggering, given the failures of the Windrush Scandal, that the Home Office has allowed some of the same problems to affect the Windrush Compensation Scheme too.”
Alba Kapoor, senior policy officer at The Runnymede Trust, reacted to the report’s publication in a Twitter post from the race equality think tank, asking: “How many more deaths will there be before the horrors of the Windrush scandal are addressed in a competent, compassionate and supportive manner?”
The organization said in a subsequent post that it backed the committee’s recommendation to turn over responsibility for the scheme to an independent body.
“The figures speak for themselves in highlighting the incompetence of the Home Office in addressing its own catastrophic failures,” it added.
Following the report’s publication, a Home Office spokesperson said in a statement to CNN: “The Home Secretary 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.
“The Home Secretary overhauled the scheme in December to ensure more money is paid more quickly – since then the amount of compensation paid has risen from less than £3 million to over £31.6 million, with a further £5.6 million having been offered. There is no cap on the amount of compensation we will pay out.
“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. We firmly believe that moving the operation of the scheme out of the Home Office would risk significantly delaying vital payments to those affected.”