Guest blog by Ramya Jaidev from Windrush Lives
By the Home Office’s own reckoning, at least 23 Windrush victims have died without a penny in compensation. But we suspect the true figure is much, much higher. The process of applying for compensation is inordinately difficult and thoroughly degrading; victims are expected to submit reams of evidence, much of it impossible to obtain, and effectively beg the Home Office for paltry sums. Some have likened it to pleading with a burglar to return what he has stolen.
In December, Windrush Lives and Good Law Project sent a pre-action letter to the Government, threatening to commence legal action which would seek a declaration that the Home Office’s continuing implementation of the scheme, and their refusal to transfer it to an independent body, is unlawful. We did this as a last resort – the compensation scheme is an abject failure, but the Government had refused to admit that. Priti Patel had, until then, dismissed every reasoned and well-evidenced appeal for the scheme to be made independent.
So we were surprised – hopeful, even – when the Government sent us this reply earlier this month. It said the Home Office hadn’t yet made a final decision on whether to move the scheme. For the first time, it wasn’t rejecting the suggestion outright.
Of course, it was all a façade – a mere four days after sending us that statement in formal legal correspondence, the Home Office briefed journalists that it was categorically not intending to move the compensation scheme; a junior minister confirmed this in Parliament.
This series of events is an almost-too-perfect snapshot of what it’s like to be a Windrush victim. You complain of a serious, systemic wrong that has seriously upset your life; the Home Office pretends to engage with your complaint and consider your arguments with the respect they deserve. But it is all a smokescreen and you ultimately receive, after more delay and obfuscation, a dismissal.
When you’ve been at the receiving end of the Home Office’s playbook for so long, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the reason the Government told us it hadn’t made a decision in its legal response is simply that without that policy decision, there isn’t anything we can judicially review. Priti Patel – so imperious, so bullish, and so eager to portray a tough, take-no-prisoners veneer – is cowering behind her lawyers. If they did in fact make a decision in the short window between responding to us and making a statement to the journalist, we’ve now asked them to provide us with the documents showing that.
She and her civil servants know we are right. They know the compensation scheme is a disgrace. The Home Office’s latest monthly statistical update shows a mere 25% of applicants have received compensation, nearly three years after the compensation scheme opened. That’s 25% of those who have applied – not 25% of all Windrush victims. If ‘success’ means justice – fair compensation – for all Windrush victims, the true success rate is closer to 5% . In a word: pathetic.
If the Home Office had a shred of dignity, it would face up squarely to our legal challenge. It would defend its position robustly, or else give in, and allow the compensation scheme to be run independently. Instead, it is hiding behind its lawyers and causing further delay – when its central conceit is that delay must be avoided.
But Windrush victims know this is par for the course. This sprawling, Kafkaesque bureaucracy will at once wreck the life of an individual while also claiming it is being unfairly criticised, and that it is trying its best.
We won’t be deterred. We will keep pursuing an independent compensation scheme. Windrush Lives and Good Law Project have written back to the Home Office, asking them to clarify their position once and for all, and come clean about whether they have made a final decision on the future of the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
Priti Patel ought to know that every week she adds to this back-and-forth is time that is lost. And while she and her civil servants hide behind legal technicalities, the real victims are dying.
That is the true cost of the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
Read our latest letter to the Government about the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
Windrush Lives is an advocacy group and support network led by victims of the Windrush scandal.
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