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The government is pricing Windrush victims out of the compensation fight

The persistent denial of legal aid to Windrush compensation claimants is just the latest insult added to the injury -making tributes seem even more hollow. 

February 24 2024, 13.04pm

Last week, lawyers challenged the government’s decision to deny legal aid to claimants under the Windrush Compensation Scheme [WCS] in the High Court. Despite the lives torn apart - and lost - in the wake of the Tory-instigated Windrush scandal, the survivors continue to face injustice and obstruction, including by being effectively priced out of applying for compensation. 

The WCS was established in 2018 by then home secretary, Amber Rudd. Unsurprisingly, the WCS was and remains significantly flawed. Compared to other government compensation schemes, like the Horizon Shortfall Scheme [HSS] designed to compensate victims of the post office scandal, the WCS has the statistically lowest success rate of just 22%, with 53% of initial applications being rejected. 73% of applications HSS have been successful, with only 17% of applications refused. These dismal WCS figures only take into account those who are able to apply in the first place; the government refuses to provide legal support to Windrush victims applying for compensation. 

According to new academic research from King’s College London, even the limited support the Home Office does provide to potential Windursh claimants is drastically inadequate; and most WCS claimants are forced to deal with the complicated process alone. Currently, the Home Office offers a maximum of three hours of support, despite the average time spent on WCS claims being a staggering 52 hours. The group providing this meagre support - We Are Group - is trained by the Home Office: the organisation responsible for both the scandal and the convoluted compensation scheme.

While we wait for the verdict of the Southwark Law Centres’ challenge, the Windrush generation and their descendants will have to be placated by having an London Overground line named after them. Oh, and a statue in their honour. 

The Mayor of London’s announcement of the Windrush line is bittersweet. While the government continues to withhold justice from the Windrush generation, celebratory gestures like this fall flat. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little wave of excitement when I saw the news; the Windrush line runs through my pocket of south east London. 

But under a Tory government that perpetuates the ill treatment of the Windrush generation, celebration of the community – whether it’s an Overground line or a £1 million statue – becomes little more than a political shield to hide behind, and a way to shirk responsibility. These gestures create the false impression that the Windrush generation have received justice while, in reality, the government actively makes receiving compensation for their wrongdoing harder. Empty gestures are not enough in the face of this mass injustice. 

So far, the Home Office has paid out just over £75 million to 2,076 claimants via the Windrush Compensation Scheme. There are an estimated 15,000 claims in total. £75 million, while sounding like a lot, is only slightly more than what London Overground makes in one month. These numbers work to put the injustice of the scandal into perspective. The government clearly has no interest in cleaning up their problem, preferring to plaster over the issues with superficial tributes. 

"Glossy refurbished trains, shiny new statues, and a not-fit-for-purpose compensation scheme, all in the name of the Windrush generation are not nearly enough."

To be clear, the Greater London Authority shouldn’t have to cough up what the Home Office owes; Sadiq Khan has long been a vocal supporter of the Windrush generation. Before he announced the Overground re-namings, the Mayor personally called on the Prime Minister to do more to end the scandal. 

Out of the thirty recommendations listed in the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, designed to alleviate the causes and devastating effects of the scandal, the Home Office, as of 2023, had only implemented eight: work on three has been ceased, and the objectives of nine have not been met at all. Last year, then home secretary, Suella Braverman, disbanded the Home Office team tasked with meeting the recommendations. 

Justice for the Windrush scandal requires more than just money. It requires going to the twisted root of the problem - a hostile environment predicated on anti-immigration sentiment. The scandal was no accident. It was the logical outcome of hundreds of years of increasingly hostile and racist immigration policies.

Attempts to rectify the harms of the Windrush scandal sit within the context of Britain’s colonial history in the Caribbean: they are inextricable. However, reparative work is something this government shirks any responsibility for. We’ve paid an eye-watering £16.5b to Britain's former slave-owning families, but still deny Windrush claimants – the descendants of those Britain enslaved – substantial compensation. Can true justice for this vital, vibrant part of the nation ever be possible while our government is committed to rejecting any responsibility for the systemic wrongs of its past? 

A year after the Windrush Scandal broke, anthropologists Laurajan Obermuller and Huon Wardle labelled the devastation an “extension of the history of colonial relations between Britain and the Caribbean”. This exploitative relationship began with the enslavement of Black Africans in the Caribbean, and now includes the mistreatment of the Windrush generation as disposable amid increasingly draconian anti-immigration initiatives. The Tories’ latest hate-fuelled anti-immigration endeavour – their plan to deport people to Rwanda – is actually in contradiction with the country’s human rights laws. The government’s recent denial of legal aid to Windrush claimants only repeats this destructive pattern, jeopardising the human rights of this community in Britain. 

Justice requires so much more than tributes. The Lead’s petition to compensate Windrush victims demands that all payouts are completed by Christmas 2024 – “before the party that caused the problem leaves the office”.  

Glossy refurbished trains, shiny new statues, and a not-fit-for-purpose compensation scheme, all in the name of the Windrush generation are not nearly enough. While we’re distracted by gestures, people continue to suffer, and the persecution of the Windrush generation at the hands of the British government continues. We can’t afford to look the other way. 


Ella Sinclair is a freelance journalist based in London focusing on race, racism, politics and social justice. 

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