Last year, the news of the Windrush scandal shot into mainstream political discourse and, rightfully, became a subject of national outrage. Members of the Windrush generation – Caribbean people and their children who were invited here as British citizens to help rebuild Britain and fill labour shortages after World War II – suddenly found themselves being deported, fired, losing access to their benefits or pensions, losing their homes, access to healthcare and even access to their bank accounts. Some, who had travelled abroad to see friends or family, found themselves unable to return to the UK, stranded in the countries they’d gone to visit.
Why? Because Theresa May, our soon-to-be former Prime Minister, initiated a brutal ‘hostile environment’ policy when she was Home Secretary that included the introduction of the 2014 Immigration Act. This Act placed a burden on landlords, employers, medical professionals, et cetera to verify a person’s right to live, work and access public services in the UK and to deny them if they couldn’t prove it. As the Windrush generation (and other Commonwealth citizens who arrived here before 1973, who are also caught up in this mess) arrived here long before this became a requirement – some of them came here as children on their parents’ passports – and were told they were British citizens and given indefinite leave to remain, they were unable to meet this requirement. Cue the deportations and loss of rights.
Of course, the government tried to avoid being held accountable, but the waves of protests and condemnation of the Home Office from across the country and the political spectrum meant that they had to do something to quieten said protests and make the public believe they genuinely cared about resolving the issue as opposed to just making it go away. After much lip service, hand-wringing and the replacement of one god-awful Tory (Amber Rudd) with another, arguably worse, one (Sajid Javid) as Home Secretary, one of those ‘things’ was the compensation scheme. The aim of this scheme is, in Sajid Javid’s own words, to “go some way to atone for the wrongs that people experienced.”
If only. The compensation scheme, when you read its details, does nothing of the sort (if you are so inclined, you can read it here). What it has achieved, which I expect the Home Office wanted, is to make people believe that they are competently and caringly addressing the issue and it is therefore being ‘sorted’.
Let me tell you now, it is NOT. It is not ‘sorted’, and it is far from being such. The caps placed on the compensation for different categories of harm are disgustingly low and do not put the victim back in the position they would have been ‘but for’ this racist joke of a government putting them in this situation. £500 for loss of your rightful access to healthcare? £200 if you lost access to your bank account and couldn’t pay your bills or go to the supermarket? How is that even remotely just? Don’t even get me started on how difficult the Home Office has made it for people to access the scheme, with no mention whatsoever of legal aid being provided. If, like me, you think this is a rather pathetic response to a devastating scandal then I have some good news for you. You can help. One of the other ‘things’ the government did to pretend it cared was to finally support making June 22 National Windrush Day going forward. This year, BARAC UK and BAME Lawyers for Justice have planned a national Windrush Day of Action to remind the public and the government that the Windrush scandal is still very much a scandal and we have not forgotten. I have been helping with this, and part of doing so is to give you all the low down.
So, what’s going on and what can I do?
On Saturday June 22nd there will be a march from Downing Street to Westminster Bridge in solidarity with the Windrush generation, along with a banner drop. Obviously, it would be amazing if you came along to the march. There is strength and impact in numbers and the Windrush generation deserve our solidarity. If you can’t make it, however, you can share the event with your networks and actively encourage people to attend in your absence. The link to Facebook event is here.
In the run up to the event you can also:
- Donate to the organisation’s GoFundMe. Demonstrations can be costly: banners and placards need to be made so resources need to be bought, leaflets to help spread the word in communities need to be printed (not everyone is on Facebook), permits need to be paid for if it is going to be filmed and so on. If you are even able to give the cost of your morning coffee, it will be genuinely appreciated and you can do so here.
- Sign da ting. The government has gotten away far too easily with allowing the Windrush scandal to happen in the first place. A full public enquiry needs to take place to not only hold people accountable but to ensure this never happens again. But without signatures we can’t force this to even be acknowledged, and the government isn’t exactly going to volunteer to subject itself to an enquiry now is it? So sign and share, share, share! Here’s the link.
I know that, as a country, we are little preoccupied with Brexit and our shambolic government. But, shambles or no shambles, Brexit or no Brexit, this government still has a duty to serve us. They have spectacularly failed the Windrush generation in that duty and will continue to fail us all if we do not stand up to them. I wrote a while back that the political is personal and the personal is political and that, even as individuals, we have the ability to make an impact. The impact you can make here is easy to achieve and takes very little time. Let’s do it.