It’s a British scandal that has been going on for decades. Lives have been destroyed, families have been torn apart, people have lost their jobs and their homes, many were wrongly imprisoned. Some of the victims of this scandal died waiting for justice or compensation. Others, tragically, took their own lives.
I am not describing the Post Office scandal, which recently hit headlines and triggered public outrage following an emotive ITV drama on the subject. I’m describing the Windrush scandal. And the parallels between the two systemic injustices are plain. In both instances, victims have been ignored for years, despite countless campaigns and attempts to get the government to act.
In the case of the Windrush scandal, the government received repeated warnings about the developing crisis, over several years, and failed to do anything about it. It was raised as early as 2013, to the Foreign Office, that Caribbean-born residents were being wrongly classified as illegal immigrants. Nothing was done. And the fallout of this inertia was devastating.
"Just like in the Post Office scandal, no one actually responsible for the misery, the humiliation, the needless deaths has yet faced any consequences."
Grandparents who had lived in the UK for more than half a century were deported to countries they hadn’t visited since they were babies. Some who left the UK to visit family in the Caribbean were told they could not return. People were financially ruined, sacked from employment due to their inaccurate ‘illegal’ status, barred from collecting benefits, some were blacklisted and left unable to even open a bank account. People were denied life-saving cancer treatment as a result of their lack of legal status. These are the people who were the founding generation of post-war Britain, filling vital jobs in the postal and transport systems, as well as the newly formed NHS, incentivised to travel to the UK by the very government that would one day turn on them.
In the days after ITV’s Post Office drama aired, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he hoped someone would commission a programme to expose the scale of the Windrush scandal to the public. But there have already been dramas. The BBC’s 2020 BAFTA-winning Sitting In Limbo powerfully depicted the true story of Janet and Anthony as they battled with the Home Office. Much like the Post Office drama, Sitting In Limbo provoked an emotional response from the public, which in turn led to promises being made by politicians. So far, those promises have proved empty. Just last year, Suella Braverman disbanded the team created to implement the promised post-Windrush reforms.
And yet, there is still so much work to be done. While the government has managed to pay out £75m in compensation for around 2,000 claims, it is estimated there will be closer to 15,000 claims from those affected. The compensation scheme itself has been described as “flawed” and “hostile”, built with a bureaucratic complexity critics say has been designed to slow the process down and put people off. To make matters worse, the government has not made legal aid available for compensation claims. So, elderly victims are on their own.
At least 53 people are known to have died after submitting a claim, still waiting for payment. And just like in the Post Office scandal, no one actually responsible for the misery, the humiliation, the needless deaths has yet faced any consequences.
In both the Post Office scandal and the Windrush scandal, injustice was allowed to run rampant for so long because of the UK government’s contempt for and disinterest in ordinary working people. The fact that it took immense public pressure for the Tories to work towards legal changes for Post Office victims speaks volumes. And as the headlines die away and public focus shifts, it’s all too easy for those in power to quietly revoke their promises. The Windrush scandal has shown us that public outrage can only ever be a starting point. What we need is politicians who stand by their word and deliver what they say they will.