I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Fifth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, The Windrush Compensation Scheme, HC 204, and the Government response, HC1098.
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Dame Angela, and to introduce the debate. I am grateful to the Liaison Committee for allocating time for it. I welcome the Minister, who I know will take seriously the matters raised by Members from across the House. In some respects, I am sorry that the Home Affairs Committee has felt the need to hold the debate, because had the Government responded more positively to our detailed and evidence-based report, it might not have been necessary to call the Minister here today to discuss the shortcomings of the Government’s response.
I am delighted to see present my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who has done much to champion this issue over many years, and the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) are here today to speak to our report and the distressing evidence we heard from the people affected by the Windrush scandal. I am also pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who will speak from the Opposition Front Bench.
To set the debate in context, the Windrush scandal that emerged in the summer of 2017 revealed the huge injustices and hardships faced by members of the Windrush generation who had been denied their lawful immigration status as a direct result of Home Office policies and practices over many years. Successive Home Secretaries have subsequently promised to right the wrongs experienced by members of the Windrush cohort, and to recognise the financial loss and emotional distress that Government actions caused. The Home Affairs Committee launched our inquiry in November 2020 because of serious concerns about long delays and difficulties in applying for the compensation scheme. The Committee remains seriously troubled that instead of providing a remedy for many people, the Windrush compensation scheme has compounded injustices.
Our inquiry found that the vast majority of people who have applied for compensation have yet to receive a penny. For some, the experience of applying for compensation has become a source of further trauma rather than redress, and others have been put off from applying for the scheme altogether. Despite the initial Government estimate of 15,000 eligible claims, the Home Office had received only 3,387 applications by the end of December 2021. Of those, 940 claims have received payment. Very sadly, when the Committee’s report was published, 23 people were known to have died before their compensation claims had been decided by the Home Office.
I would like to thank all the people who took the time and effort to engage with the Committee’s inquiry and provide the evidence that underpins our recommendations and conclusions. In particular, I thank the individuals who attended the Committee’s roundtable and shared their first-hand experience of the scheme, including Dominic Akers-Paul, Glenda Caesar, Gertrude Ngozi Chinegwundoh, Christian Hayibor, Carl Nwazota, Grace Nwobodo and Anthony Williams. I also thank Thomas Tobierre, a claimant, and his daughter Charlotte, who took part in an interview with Committee staff.
Our report considers people’s experience of the Windrush scheme and our recommendations focus on changes that we believe would have an immediate impact on the scheme’s effectiveness. Before I outline the report, I want to mention two of the heartbreaking accounts we heard during the inquiry. Anthony Williams arrived in the United Kingdom from Jamaica in 1971, aged seven. He served in the British Army for 13 years before becoming a fitness instructor. In 2013, he was wrongly classed as an illegal immigrant and sacked. Mr Williams was left unable to work or access benefits because he could not demonstrate his lawful status. He was also unable to register for a doctor’s appointment or see a dentist, and when a tooth infection began to spread, he consequently lost most of his teeth.
Mr Williams applied for compensation within a week of the scheme’s opening, but was unable to provide documentary evidence of his salary. In total, for the five years in which his life was affected, Mr Williams was initially offered approximately £18,000 in compensation. Mr Williams told us,
“Even now, I’m still having problems. I still don’t sleep. And it’s because of the compensation scheme. In the back of my mind now, because I survived five years of virtually living on nothing, the money is secondary now. My sanity is top of the game now to me”.
Glenda Caesar came to the United Kingdom from Dominica in 1961, when she was just three months old. She worked in the NHS for over 20 years. In 2009, Ms Caesar was wrongly sacked from her job and then denied access to unemployment benefits. She accrued thousands of pounds in rent arrears. In December 2019, following 10 years of being unable to work, Ms Caesar was first offered approximately £22,000 in compensation. She rejected that initial offer, describing it as “insultingly low”.
I wish to welcome the few recommendations that received a positive response from the Government. The Home Office responded most positively to the Committee’s recommendations on outreach and engagement. I am grateful for the Department’s acknowledgment that more needs to be done to reach eligible claimants. Will the Minister provide an update on progress with the campaign to target non-Caribbean Commonwealth communities, with a particular focus on Ghana, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh? Has he noticed any increase in applications from those countries as a result?
I am pleased the Government agreed with our recommendation that they should provide the number of full and final impact on life payments at each level of award as part of their regular data releases. Will the Minister confirm when we can expect the first data release? The Home Office confirmed that it would recommence holding face-to-face engagement events; will the Minister take this opportunity to announce in public when the first of those events will take place?
Over the course of our inquiry, we identified a litany of flaws in the design and operation of the Windrush compensation scheme, including the excessive burden on claimants to provide documentary evidence of the losses they suffered; the long delays in processing applications and making payments; the inadequate staffing of the scheme; a failure to provide urgent and exceptional payments to individuals in desperate need; delays in launching and adequately supporting grassroots campaigns to reach eligible claimants; and failure to rebuild confidence in both the Department and the scheme. Although we strongly welcome changes made to the scheme in December 2020 and again in July 2021, many concerns in the Committee’s report are yet to be addressed.
Fundamentally, many people are still too fearful of the Home Office to apply for compensation. The treatment of the Windrush generation by successive Governments was truly shameful. No amount of compensation could ever repay the fear, humiliation, hurt and hardship that was caused to individuals who were affected. That the design and operation of the scheme contained the same bureaucratic insensitivities that led to the Windrush scandal in the first place is a damning indictment of the Home Office.
In order to increase trust and encourage more applicants, we recommend that the scheme should be transferred to an independent organisation. In their response, rejecting that recommendation, the Government restated their position that transferring the scheme outside the Home Office would cause additional delays and that the Home Office is the appropriate Department for handling the scheme because of the need to access claimants’ immigration history. That is a disappointing response, given the incredibly low number of applicants.
The majority of submissions received by the Committee expressed concerns about the lack of trust in the Department among affected communities and the impact of that on people’s willingness to apply to the scheme. Will the Minister think again and consider whether the scheme will have failed if, as a result of that distrust, only a small percentage of the people who have suffered injustice ever come forward and are compensated?
I am disappointed that the Home Office rejected most of our recommendations. I will therefore focus my remarks on the most concerning matters, which relate to our recommendations on compensation, the impact on life, loss of employment and loss of pension. The evidence we received expressed particular concerns about how those categories of claim operate. Despite the concerns raised about the caseworker guidance on impact on life awards, which were outlined in the Committee’s report, the Home Office rather oddly referred the Committee to the same guidance in response to our recommendation that the Department provide greater clarity as to how awards are determined.
The Government committed in April 2019 to ensuring that claimants’ national insurance positions could be corrected, enabling them to receive the correct amount of state pension. Almost three years later, it remains unclear when a solution will be implemented. Will the Minister provide an update on that?
The Committee heard that the loss of occupational pension is a common type of loss among claimants, yet the Home Office restated its position that such losses are excluded from the scheme. The Committee acknowledges the complexity of the issue and included in its recommendations some options that, although imperfect, would enable claimants to receive some compensation. The Home Office’s response did not demonstrate any real engagement with the Committee’s suggestions.
On lifting the £500 cap on compensation for legal fees per immigration application, the Home Office restated its position that
“the immigration system has been designed to make sure people do not require legal assistance to make an application for an immigration product.”
I draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the Committee received evidence from one individual whose family member faced multiple court hearings to prevent their deportation and spent £10,000 on legal costs.
The Home Office rejected our recommendation on introducing funded legal assistance to help people to make a claim. The majority of submissions we received said that legal assistance would be beneficial because the scheme is complex and because comprehensive claims submitted by legal professionals may be processed more quickly by caseworkers. Requests for additional evidence are not uncommon and some claimants reported finding that traumatic, given their previous contact with the Home Office. They told us they would have preferred to manage their claim via a representative.
The Home Office did not commit to making any changes to how applications for urgent and exceptional support are handled. Carl Nwazota, whom I mentioned earlier, applied for that type of support. He told us that throughout the entirety of his interaction with the Home Office he was homeless and living on the street, but the Home Office still refused him access to that support. The Home Office told him that until it received a completed compensation form, it could not help him.
Recently released data shows that from 1 October 2018 to the end of October 2021, just 10% of the requests received for urgent and exceptional support were decided within 10 working days of receipt. It is completely unacceptable that individuals facing hardship because of Home Office failures should continue to be let down and left destitute by the Department while they wait for compensation payments. We are therefore deeply disappointed with the Home Office’s response, which does not make any commitment to improving the operation of the scheme.
Sadly, the Home Office’s response to some of the Committee’s recommendations did not demonstrate that the Department had fully engaged with the issues. The responses to the Committee’s recommendations on providing greater clarity as to how compensation for impact on life is determined and on bringing the loss of occupational pension within scope were particularly disappointing, as they did not engage with the real concerns set out in our report.
The Home Office’s response to the Committee’s recommendations on identifying and addressing the causes of delay lacked any detail. Furthermore, although the Department has increased the number of caseworkers throughout 2021, the published data does not yet show that cases are being processed more quickly.
I have not touched on everything in the report, but I hope I have been able to give an overview of what is a substantial report, and of the issues it raised, which have not been satisfactorily answered in the Government response. Ultimately, many of the concerns raised with us about the compensation scheme echo criticisms made of the Home Office by Wendy Williams in her lessons learned review. We can only conclude that, four years on from the Windrush scandal, vital lessons have still not been learned by the Home Office.
The Windrush generation was the generation that came from across the Commonwealth, but largely from the Caribbean, to help to rebuild this country after the war. The point about the Windrush generation—a point that may not be understood by Government Members—was that these people thought they were British. They thought they were coming to the mother country. Many of them had pictures of the Queen in their living rooms. The way they have been treated, first in the Windrush scandal itself and then in the debacle of the compensation scheme, could not be more unfair or more cruel.
The lawyers and many of the people who gave evidence to the Select Committee talked about money and compensation, but for the people of the Windrush generation the real scandal was the humiliation at having it brought home to them, by the many aspects of the Windrush scandal, that this society did not consider them British. They were not treated with the fairness and dignity that they would have liked. For the Windrush generation—I cannot stress this enough—this was not about the money; it was about being respected and being genuinely accepted as British. They were treated completely unfairly, in practical, emotional and subjective ways.
The thing that should have struck the Government about the workings of their scheme was that in 2020 Alexandra Ankrah, who worked as head of policy in the Windrush compensation scheme team, resigned because she lost confidence in a programme that was
“not supportive of people who have been victims”
“doesn’t acknowledge their trauma”.
It is their trauma that I want to try to convey in this debate.
The head of the scheme resigned, and they paid no notice—they carried on as before. In that same year, nine law firms wrote to the Home Secretary explaining the complex nature of the Windrush compensation application process and asked that claimants be given access to funded legal assistance. The Government’s response was to say, “Well, the scheme was designed so that people could apply without legal assistance.” What people? People who are known to Government Members, and people who are known to Ministers—not ageing members of the Windrush generation. They cannot deal with the scheme without some kind of legal assistance. I put it to Ministers that it is the complexity of the scheme that has meant we have not had the number of applications that we should have had, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) set out.
In the Select Committee’s hearings, we heard evidence from distinguished practitioners, such as Martin Forde QC, who had been the independent adviser to the scheme and also advised on its consultation and design, and Holly Stow, a senior caseworker at North Kensington Law Centre. The significance of that law centre is that the earliest generation of Caribbean migrants lived in that area long before it was as expensive to buy a home there as it is now, and I knew that area well as a child. Another important person we took evidence from was Jacqueline McKenzie, who at that time was assisting with approximately 200 claims and is probably assisting with more by now.
The policy head of the scheme resigned because she was so appalled at the way the scheme was functioning. Lawyers and others went to the Government to talk to them about the complexity of the system. Above all, given the Government’s original estimate for the potential number of claimants—I think it was 15,000—the number of people applying to the scheme, certainly when the Committee did its inquiry, was relatively tiny. Yet the Home Office has been quite brazen in rejecting the analysis of people who had worked for the Home Office on the scheme and of lawyers and potential claimants.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North pointed out, the Home Office rejected many of our key recommendations, and its response demonstrated that the Department was not engaging with the issues. Above all, the Department’s response to many of our separate recommendations was that it would conduct a review. On almost everything we raised, the Home Office said it was conducting a review. It is all well and good that it is conducting a review on all those separate issues, but it should not need to have a review; it should be prepared to listen to the lawyers, claimants and people working with the community and to look at its own figures. It should be prepared to listen to its own staff members who have worked on the scheme. It should not need to launch a series of reviews.
Meanwhile, because those who came over on the Windrush are an ageing generation, many of them have died or will die before they get the compensation they are entitled to, and I consider that quite shameful. It is hard to believe that the Department does not understand that the more the process is prolonged; the less willing the Department is to take up practical suggestions made in good faith by not just my Committee, but others; and the more the Department is unwilling to listen to people, the longer it will all take and more people will have passed away without justice.
As my right hon. Friend said, many people have argued that the Windrush compensation scheme was inadequate. We know, as my colleague said, that the number of people who have applied for compensation is paltry compared to the number the Home Office originally said were entitled to it. The experience of applying for compensation is traumatic in itself. As I have said, one of the things that is not necessarily factored in when people talk about the Windrush generation is their sense of humiliation, as people who came here to the mother country, at being treated the way they were and having to go through the scheme at all.
As my right hon. Friend said, people have been put off from applying for the scheme partly because of its complexity, which Ministers have been told over and over again. Seeing what happened, seeing how people were treated originally and seeing how some even ended up being deported—seeing all that—the potential claimants of the Windrush generation lacked all trust in the Home Office. That is why one of our key recommendations was that this scheme should be passed to an independent organisation.
The Home Office said, “Well, that might introduce delays,” but it could not have introduced more delays than the Windrush generation are experiencing now. It could not be any slower than what is happening now. There could not be more people dying than now, while the Home Office is processing what it is supposed to be doing. It is preposterous for the Home Office to argue, “We don’t want to pass it to an independent organisation because of delays.” With this scheme, those at the Home Office are the masters of delays.
We called for an independent organisation because we felt that it would be more efficient and that—I come back to this question of confidence—applicants would have more confidence in an independent organisation and would be more willing to come forward, so that we could increase the number of people applying and getting justice before they pass away, as they continue to do. At the time of the Committee’s report, 23 individuals had died without receiving compensation, and I have no doubt that even more have passed away by this point.
Among other things, we pointed out the excessive burden on claimants to provide documentary evidence of the losses they have suffered. That is a burden. Somebody might have worked hard in the NHS or elsewhere in the public sector, or in manufacturing as my father did, but they are not used to handling that level of paperwork, so it is a burden. In a way, that insistence on finding all the documentary evidence just compounds the pain and misery they have gone through in the Windrush scandal.
Then there are the delays. Like I said, how can those at the Home Office complain that passing the scheme to an independent organisation would cause delays when they themselves have presided over inordinate delays in processing applications and making payments? They themselves have staffed the scheme wholly inadequately. We pointed out the failure to provide urgent payments and the delay in launching and adequately supporting grassroots campaigns, and I think something has been done about that.
It is frustrating for the Committee even to have had to write the report, because many of the systemic faults were highlighted first in the Home Office’s own lessons learned review by Wendy Williams. It is not that we are bringing the Home Office’s attention to such things for the first time; Wendy Williams had set out many of them. The title of her document was “lessons learned”, but the only thing that one can conclude at this point is that the Home Office has learned nothing—lessons have not been learned at all or, if they have been learned, they have not been implemented.
Where do we go from here? It would be good if the Home Office, even at this late stage, listened and implemented some of the findings of the Wendy Williams review, listened to what lawyers and claimants themselves are saying, and listened to the findings of my Committee’s report. The Windrush compensation scheme has to go to an independent organisation, for reasons of increased efficiency and so that people can have some confidence; the Home Office has to look at the level of documentation being insisted on; and, given that Martin Forde QC, has said that applications being completed with legal assistance would speed things up dramatically, the Home Office should guarantee access to legal assistance for all claimants who require it.
It is important that the Home Office understands that what Home Office Ministers and officials see as a minor administrative challenge, as they have so many more important things to do and to think about, is, for the Windrush generation, their lives. This is a signifier of the care and respect that this society holds for that generation. For Ministers to ignore what is said to them, year after year, about the complaints process and to ignore the suggestions that people make in good faith, suggests to me that they do not respect that generation or understand the humiliation that the generation feels. As I said earlier, it is as if they are waiting for this generation to pass away.
Finally, the Windrush generation came not just from the Caribbean, but from other parts of Commonwealth, as we pointed out in our report. They did not all come on the Windrush or on other boats either. My own father came on an aeroplane, which was very dashing of him at the time. He was an impetuous person; no doubt, that is where I get it from. As I said, they came in good faith and I believe that the Home Office should deal with them in good faith. It is not too late for Home Office Ministers and officials to pay attention to our report, and to other statements that have been made and issues that have been raised, including the view of its own head of policy for the scheme. It is not too late for the Home Office to listen to criticism and finally give justice to the Windrush generation.
I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for setting the scene so well. It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). I look forward to the contributions from other hon. Members, including the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), and the Minister.
The thrust of the points made by the right hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North and for Hackney North and Stoke Newington was about seeking a methodology to address to the large number of people who have not been compensated, or even talked to at this stage. When the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North set the scene, which she did very well, she outlined the report and where the response needs to come from. We all look to our Minister and good friend to give us some positivity in relation to the questions that we are all asking.
This is not the first time that I have participated in a debate about the Windrush generation, because I believe that we have an obligation, which we have not fulfilled and are still not fulfilling, to do right by these people who do, and did, right by us. That is the thrust of where I come from. Not many people in my constituency travelled as part of the Windrush generation, but that does lessen the issue for me. I support the recommendations in the report and the comments made by the right hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North and for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
In 2020, I asked the Home Secretary about the report by Wendy Williams. I asked her:
“How does she believe that these can be implemented to ensure that applications adhere not simply to the letter of the policy, but to the spirit of the policy, which would never have intended for this generation of people, who did so much for the UK when we needed them the most, to suffer so needlessly?”—[Official Report, 21 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 2033.]
Some two years later, we are repeating some of those questions to the Minister, this time hoping that we can get the reassurance that we are looking for. We were assured by the Home Secretary that she was looking to do that, and yet here we are once again, no further forward.
When I read the report by the Home Affairs Committee, I was struck by most of it, but by one paragraph in particular. It said:
“We are deeply concerned that, as of the end of September, only 20.1% of the initially estimated 15,000 eligible claimants have applied to the scheme and only 5.8% have received any compensation”,
as the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said. The report continued:
“It further compounds the Windrush scandal that twenty-three individuals have died without receiving compensation for the hardship that they endured.”
I do not think it would be wrong to ask whether the families of those 23 people would also receive compensation, should they apply to the scheme—I am sure the Minister will come back on that question, as we wish to have reassurance.
Respectfully, I say again that we are still failing here. Rather than another assurance, which I know to be well intended and very well meaning, these people need action in the form of an easily understood scheme that they can apply to in order to get their compensation in a timely manner, and which treats this matter with the respect it deserves. This is not a criticism of the Government; it is a plea to have that scheme in place.
We all know the story of the Windrush generation. I have been greatly moved by some of the TV programmes I have watched on their story. People come up with such hope for the future of this great kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but for some, unfortunately, that hope was not delivered. The Windrush generation answered the call to the Commonwealth and uprooted themselves for the promise of a new life, yet we took what we needed without standing by our duty to them. That has been openly acknowledged. The scale of how remiss we were has meant that a compensation scheme is in place. The Government recognised that it had not been done and that it needed to be done. That is correct and proper. However, what is the point in such a scheme if people are unable to access it, whatever the reason may be? The report sets out some of those reasons.
If only 5% of those eligible have benefited, there needs to be a whole new strategy and way of looking at this issue. The scheme as it is currently operated needs to be better, more focused and fit for purpose. I agree with the Home Affairs Committee that,
“Those who apply face a daunting application process without adequate support; they face unreasonable requests for evidence”,
as was referred to by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, who spoke of the efforts of some of those affected in her introduction. The report goes on to say that
“they are left in limbo in the midst of inordinate delays. Too often, injustice has been compounded rather than compensated. This is unacceptable and must not continue.”
The words of the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington on this matter were appropriate: people came here in good faith and they deserved to have that good faith returned in buckets in every way possible.
I support the calls for the removal of the formal end date and for the 13,800 eligible people to be contacted again and offered support to apply in a more streamlined and accessible format. I hope the Minister is able to respond to that. That might mean working with people one to one, face to face, to work through the system, give them compensation and have their voices heard. I understand that the Home Office is terribly overworked; I know that the Minister, in particular, is most energetic in these matters. We have the Ukrainian crisis at the moment, as well as a number of other issues. There are lots of things to do; I understand that. I am not being critical in any way.
Despite that, I hope that the Home Office finds the funding to allocate for the support and administration of these applications. We have got it wrong for too long; we are past due getting it right. We have to do right by these wonderful people who are very much part of our vibrant British community, and whom we all appreciate, understand and wish to support.
I congratulate the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), on securing this vital debate and on the eloquent and comprehensive way she introduced it. Like her I will start by placing on record my thanks to all who contributed to our inquiry and report. I particularly thank the witnesses she mentioned, who gave evidence of their direct experiences as victims of the disgraceful Windrush scandal, and those who have been working on their behalf to secure justice for them.
The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) spoke powerfully about what this issue means for the Windrush generation—more powerfully than I would be able to. In short, they came here in good faith and had to battle against hostility when they arrived. Decades later, they and their descendants had to battle the hostile environment. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, it is heartbreaking that they still have to battle for justice today through the Windrush compensation scheme. Of course a compensation scheme was required, and it is good that it is there, but there was no other option. It is a tragedy that that compensation scheme is now also a source of controversy and difficulty, rather than a trusted and reliable means of ensuring redress for those who have suffered so much already.
As the Committee Chair highlighted at the outset, the Home Office initially reckoned that around 15,000 people would be eligible for the scheme. It has twice revised its planning assumptions downwards, and the number now stands at between 4,000 and 6,000 eligible claimants, so a vital first question for the Minister is why those downward revisals have taken place. Why does the Department think that far fewer people will apply? Given that almost 14,000 were issued documentation or citizenship through the Windrush scheme and could be described as victims of this scandal, why are so few seeking compensation?
In our report, the Committee put forward a number of reasons that we believe are at the heart of this issue. First and foremost, is it not blindingly obvious that people who have had their lives destroyed by a Government Department will be reluctant, or even terrified, to engage with the same Department again? That is what we argued when the compensation scheme legislation was passing through Parliament, and the argument remains just as strong today. I absolutely appreciate that, having come this far, there is a concern that moving the scheme away from the Home Office could cause yet further delay. There has indeed been far too much delay already, but is it not the case that there is no other option? Surely it is better to have a scheme that has the full trust of Windrush victims and to which they will therefore apply, even if that takes a bit longer. Far rather that than pressing on with the current arrangements, which provide little confidence that the scheme will reach all the victims we need it to reach.
I acknowledge again the work that has been done on outreach, but I echo calls from the witnesses and the Committee that more should be done. I urge the Home Office to listen to the detailed ideas for how further publicity and attention can be given to outreach work. At the end of the day, however, that does not address the fundamental problem of people being asked to contact a Department they feel has destroyed their lives and humiliated them.
Another issue that I have highlighted before, and which has been highlighted by our Committee, Wendy Williams, the Public Accounts Committee and others, is the failure to seek out victims in non-Caribbean Commonwealth countries through historical case review in the way the Home Office did for Caribbean countries. The Home Office has said, pretty vaguely, that that would require too much in the way of time and resources, so will the Minister undertake to set out exactly what the Home Office estimates it would cost to conduct such a review? Otherwise, it is impossible to assess whether the Home Office position is remotely reasonable, and we are left with victims across the globe who will have no idea that they can now seek redress and right the wrongs that were done to them. Again, I welcome the new campaign to target people from some non-Caribbean Commonwealth countries, but we fear that it does not go far enough.
Another reason why people will struggle to apply is, as has been said, the complexity of the scheme. Again, it is only fair to recognise and welcome the efforts that have been made to simplify the forms and guidance. We also welcome the change to the standard of proof required for some claims—something that we raised during the passage of the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Act 2020. That said, we need assurance that the standard of proof is actually making a difference in practice. What steps is the Minister taking to assure himself of that, given that the Home Office refused our recommendation that Ministers and senior officials should examine a sample of cases to understand how the standard of proof is working in practice? As has been said, much of the evidence that we heard suggested that people will still be required to provide incredibly detailed documentary evidence of events that happened a long time ago, which would not be necessary in a normal civil claim for damages.
Even when taking into account the changes that have been made, quantifying loss, damage and suffering is an inherently challenging process. Every day up and down this country, people employ lawyers to litigate the amount of compensation that they are due—whether that is because they have been unlawfully dismissed, because they have been injured in an accident at work or a road traffic accident, or because somebody has breached a contract. People employ lawyers because documenting and calculating loss is difficult. Legal aid is available to people on a means-tested basis, so I cannot for the life of me understand why it is not available to people who are seeking to access the Windrush compensation scheme. That is the only way in which we can be confident that people are claiming and securing what they are entitled to as quickly as possible.
Even when people come forward and navigate the scheme, it takes too long to process, as we have heard. New caseworkers have been taken on, and that is welcome, but why has it taken so long, and why does the number of outstanding applications continue to rise? As has been said, it is a tragedy that at least 23 individuals have died before compensation was paid to them. Too many cases are still taking too long, with significant numbers of people having to wait more than a year.
Even if someone comes forward, successfully navigates the system and qualifies for compensation, their problems do not end there. I was startled to read that at the end of December 2021 35% of the final decisions issued had been zero awards. People who met the scheme’s criteria were actually being deemed not to be entitled to compensation. Have I understood that correctly? Has the Minister looked into that, and what is his explanation for it?
As the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North set out, the Committee made detailed recommendations on certain heads of claim that are not being properly compensated or are not compensated at all. The Home Office has promised reviews on those claims, which is just about better than nothing, but as the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said, we need more than that—we need action quickly.
The rejection by the Home Office of other recommendations, such as compensation for impact on life, for loss of employment, for loss of pension and for legal fees, is particularly disappointing. At the end of the day, that means that people are simply not being reimbursed for the actual losses they have suffered, and that is just indefensible. People who spent thousands of pounds battling deportation will not get that money back; people who lost occupational pension rights will not get them back. That is not righting the wrongs of Windrush.
There is still a long way to go in delivering meaningful justice for the victims of the Windrush scandal. I pay tribute again to the victims and the campaigners who continue to push for justice and to colleagues on the Select Committee for continuing to press the Home Office on their behalf. We must and will keep doing so, because the Home Office has to go further and it has to go faster.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Angela. I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. I pay particular tribute the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who is doing such important work on this matter, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who spoke with such passion about these issues, which are personal for her. I also pay tribute to the other hon. Members who have spoken.
Let us be clear: the Windrush generation have been failed twice—first by the Conservative Government’s hostile environment programme, which harassed and discriminated against innocent victims, and secondly by the delays and blockages in delivering compensation to the victims of this terrible scandal.
The National Audit Office has been critical of the Windrush compensation scheme, and the report by the Home Affairs Committee has now revealed the magnitude of its failings, making it clear that the culture in the Home Office has failed miserably to change when it needed to. The report states:
“Many people who have applied for compensation have yet to receive a penny and we have heard too many stories of people struggling with impossible demands for evidence”
“poor communication from the Home Office…the experience of applying for compensation from the Home Office has become a source of further trauma rather than redress. Many of the concerns raised with us about the Windrush Compensation Scheme as part of this inquiry have echoes of the same criticisms made of the Home Office by Wendy Williams in her report into how the Windrush scandal occurred. It is a damning indictment of the Home Office that the design and operation of this scheme contained the same bureaucratic insensitivities that led to the Windrush scandal in the first place”.
That is a damning assessment and it further confirms the fears that the Home Office, in its current guise, is not fit for purpose and that the Home Secretary’s leadership can be characterised as a mixture of incompetence and indifference.
The failure proactively to seek out those victims to whom the Home Office had caused so much suffering has only added to the delays. Between 4,000 and 6,000 people are thought to be eligible, but at the end of January only 960 people—about 20% of those eligible for compensation —had applied, and fewer than 10% have received any compensation at all. It is no wonder that the victims of Windrush have lost faith in the Home Office to deliver this scheme. The treatment of the Windrush generation simply has not improved.
Some of the most damning criticism, from the Wendy Williams review through to this Home Affairs Committee report, has been about the culture in the Home Office. Wendy Williams found that the Home Office was characterised by
“a culture of disbelief and carelessness…a lack of empathy for individuals”
and, perhaps most tellingly, by
“institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race”.
That is why the Labour party, along with voices from across society, including of course members of the Windrush generation, is calling for the compensation scheme to be completely overhauled by placing it in the hands of an independent body, away from the Home Office. Recommendation 3 of the Home Affairs Committee report explicitly echoes Labour’s call, but the Government, shamefully and predictably, have rejected that suggestion. The Labour party believes that the body leading the compensation scheme must have the confidence of victims so as to restore faith in the process and get compensation quickly to people who have been so appallingly treated.
Adding to the lack of trust is the fact that the Home Secretary still has not implemented all the findings of the Williams independent review, despite committing in June 2020 to doing so. Where is, for instance, the migrants’ commissioner? The Opposition are also calling on Ministers to come forward with cast-iron guarantees on when each and every one of the 30 recommendations will be implemented—not just a promise that they will be, but guarantees on when.
There has been a complete failure by the Home Office to put right the damage done to the Windrush generation and to give them the compensation they deserve. In fact, the process of applying for compensation through the scheme replicates many of the issues experienced by victims initially, including long delays and excessive burdens on individuals to provide documentation that it is unrealistic to expect them to provide. It is worth noting that, tragically, 23 people who applied to the scheme have died before receiving their compensation. The Government must act, and must act at speed.
Against that backdrop, I have some questions for the Minister. In January, the Home Office was forced to apologise to hundreds of charities and community groups that were still waiting for decisions on applications for funding needed to support Windrush victims to apply to the scheme. We have seen delays with the scheme itself and now delays with that vital funding. Can the Minister set out today what he is doing to put that right? At the end of January, more than 90% of Windrush victims had yet to receive a penny, and 80% had not even applied. Can the Minister give us the updated figures and explain what the Government are doing to encourage more victims to come forward?
On that note, does the Minister agree that trust between this Home Office and the Windrush generation is irreparably damaged and that this vital compensation scheme must be handed to an independent organisation to ensure that victims come forward and get the redress they deserve? That will surely help to restore faith in the process and get compensation quickly to people who have been so appallingly treated.
As I said, 23 members of the Windrush generation have, tragically, died while waiting for the compensation they deserved from the scheme. This is an ageing group of claimants. What is the Minister doing specifically to speed up the process to ensure that the Windrush generation get the compensation they deserve?
The lack of progress on the Windrush compensation scheme is allowing the shameful failings exposed by the Wendy Williams review to continue. The reality is that the time for warm words is over. There has to be a fundamental change in the Home Office and in the compensation scheme. The Government must get on and deliver the compensation that the Windrush victims are entitled to following the dreadful miscarriages of justice brought about by the Government’s immoral and unlawful hostile environment policy. The former Home Secretary said that the Government,
“will do right by the Windrush generation.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2018; Vol. 640, c. 35.]
We are yet to see the current Home Secretary coming close to that aspiration. The time for platitudes is over. The time for action is now.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Angela. I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) for securing this debate and all hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions. This is an important subject and I am pleased we have been able to discuss it today.
The victims of the Windrush scandal suffered terrible injustices, and this Government are determined to ensure we do everything in our power to right those wrongs. This was a shameful episode in our history; as the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) powerfully outlined, it was not just about people losing a job, suffering an inconvenience or not being able to travel; it was about feeling that their very identity had been taken away. For many, it was even harder than that: it was about being reminded, in our modern society, of exactly the type of prejudices they had met when they first came here back in the 1950s. At that time it was, shamefully, still lawful to act in ways that have now rightly been banned for many years.
We fully understand that this is not just about getting a cheque or some financial recompense; this is about something that struck people very deeply as individuals, beyond whatever financial impact it had. While it is hard to respond to that, compensation—making sure we recompense people where we can—is obviously part of the response, but the hurt felt is very much recognised, and we apologise for it and look to recognise what was done.
The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington spoke powerfully about how this is not just a debate about facts and figures on a spreadsheet. These issues had a very personal impact on people, including people whose parents, who brought them over, had fought for this country. Only a few years before their arrival here as migrants, they had been serving in the military, the then imperial forces, at a time when this nation had made a desperate call for people to serve in its defence. Many had stepped forward, particularly those from Caribbean communities and other communities across the Commonwealth, to defend a country they had never seen, but whose values they believed they shared.
I understand very much why this goes beyond being just an issue about an ordinary claim for compensation—for example, where someone’s car has been damaged or a contract has gone wrong. This really struck people quite deeply, which goes beyond what we can do, but paying compensation is an important part of this.
When I visited a community group recently, I was struck by people’s commitment to the community and this country. One individual said thank you for the compensation we had paid—they were very grateful for it. I said, “I am pleased you are grateful, but it should never have been necessary for you to have to go through that. It is what you are owed and entitled to, and not something that you should feel you have to thank us for.”
The situation we are discussing went on for a number of years. I am sure other hon. Members will have noticed, as I did, that the case on the cover of the Wendy Williams’s lessons learned review dated back to 2009. This is not a matter of a particular Government at a particular time—it happened over many years—and the Home Affairs Committee report touches on that.
We are determined to ensure that everyone who suffered because they could not demonstrate their lawful status in the United Kingdom—let me be clear that these people had lawful status in the UK—receives every penny of the compensation to which they are entitled. We are making some significant progress towards achieving that aim and have now paid a total of more than £43 million in compensation.
We remain open to areas for further improvement and welcome some of the constructive challenge we have had from Members across the House. To give credit where it is due, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) referenced his comments in a previous debate, where he highlighted that some of our wording implied a criminal standard of proof—beyond reasonable doubt—when clearly, in this instance, it should be on balance of probabilities, rather than having to reach that threshold. As a result, as he acknowledged, we changed the guidance. We remain open to looking at what needs to be done when such issues are highlighted.
I am grateful that that change was made; I thank the Minister for that. What has he done to assure himself that that is actually making a difference in practice? There was a recommendation in the report about looking at a sample of cases, because there is still evidence coming to us that it has not changed much in reality.
I am always happy to further consider evidence. Certainly we have seen higher awards being made, partly because of the quite significant changes we made to the scheme last year but also, unsurprisingly, due to the increase in the number of applications to the scheme, which I will touch on in a minute. The change appears to be having an effect, but, as more cases come to a final decision, particularly as reviews in other areas are done, we are open to making sure that it has made a difference. I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the constructive spirit in which he approached the debate on the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill, as did the then shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, which helped produce a better outcome all round.
I am keen for Members to see for themselves the work being done in this area. Now that covid restrictions are behind us, I am happy to welcome any parliamentary colleagues who wish to visit the compensation scheme casework team to see for themselves the progress we have made. They can talk to the team working to resolve cases to get people the compensation they deserve. The team is based up in Leeds, separate from some of the other work. For many this is their only role in the Home Office; they are not working on wider immigration matters, although some have experience in those, given the nature of the issues that they deal with. I am certainly happy to welcome people to visit and meet the teams, talk to them and see the work being done. We had hoped to arrange visits at an earlier stage, but with the understandable restrictions during the covid period, it was something we had to consider very carefully. Now that the restrictions are behind us, a visit by the Select Committee would be welcome as well. We would be happy to arrange that.
Although we do not agree with every recommendation, overall we welcome the Home Affairs Committee’s report on the scheme, and we are already making significant progress in respect of several of the Committee’s key recommendations. However, some of the recommendations are complex and we need to consider those carefully to address the issues raised. I anticipate that Members might say, “Let’s have an example, then, of a recommendation you think is complex.” We are committed to ensuring that an individual’s national insurance position is corrected where an inability to demonstrate status has impacted their entitlement to the state pension. For example, someone may have been unable to have employment and therefore unable to make national insurance contributions, meaning that there are missing years when it comes to the calculation of state pension.
We continue to work with the relevant Departments to resolve this complex issue. We are making progress, although unfortunately I cannot give a specific date today as to when we will be able to bring that change into effect.
I am just a bit concerned because it is now several years since the issue arose. Getting clarity on what their entitlement to state pension will be is something that will concern an individual. The Minister says he cannot indicate when the issue is likely to be resolved. Does he have a best guess? Will it be a year, two years, five years?
We hope it will be quicker than the right hon. Lady has just suggested, and potentially a lot quicker than one of the timeframes that she suggested. I am not in a position today to give a specific date, but we are making excellent progress towards finally resolving this issue. We accept that we need to bring certainty to people, particularly given the age of many of those we are talking about, as touched on by the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Even the children of that generation are well into their 50s and 60s, given that, in many cases, we are talking about people who arrived in the UK before 1 January 1973. We are conscious of the urgency of resolving this issue. I do not want to make a misleading statement today and give a specific date by which it will be resolved, but certainly we believe we are making excellent progress and getting close to resolving it.
The changes we made to the scheme in December 2020 have significantly increased both the amount of compensation awarded and the speed at which awards are made. Since December 2020 we have paid out over £33 million, in contrast to a total of just under £3 million prior to those changes. We now frequently pay out over £1 million a month in compensation, and we recently paid out one of our largest awards to date—a single award in excess of £260,000 to one individual. I hope that Members will understand why I will not give further details of that case, which may identify the person concerned, given the sums involved.
That is a very fair question. The £36.3 million that has been paid—I must say that £43.3 million has been offered, but I will stick to the figure that I used for payment—is across a total of 940 claims, out of the 3,490 received. Obviously, the sums vary, but the largest we have paid recently is over £260,000 to one individual, and there have been a number of payments in excess of £100,000.
It is worth remembering that there is not a cap; there is not a maximum compensation amount that someone can hit. That figure gives Members an impression of the scale of the payments now being made to individuals. As I said, I am sure that people will understand why I will not go into the details of that particular case, given that doing so could divulge the identity of an individual who has just received a significant amount of money.
There have been a number of people whose cases have concluded with a nil offer. Part of that is because we are processing more cases and getting more cases towards a final decision. However, with each case, we believe that we have come to the right decision, and decisions can be reviewed and challenged if people feel that they are inappropriate.
Sometimes, people have just been looking for a formal apology for what happened to them, which is absolutely right. However, in other cases, the impacts may not be linked directly to someone’s inability to prove their immigration status. For example, someone may have lost their job due to a criminal conviction rather than because they were not able to demonstrate their immigration status. That would not be covered by the compensation scheme; someone must have lost their job due to not being able to prove their immigration status. That is where a number of the biggest awards have come.
I thank the Minister for his positive response. He referred to 900 people having been successful. Might the experience of those 900 who have successfully come to the end of the process help the other 13,400—I think that was the figure—who have not accessed the scheme? Is it possible to use their success to persuade others to get involved in the scheme—to show them how they can access it and reach the same successful conclusion?
The hon. Member hits on the point that making people aware that significant amounts of compensation can be received is one of the ways of promoting the scheme. I am aware of at least one other compensation claim that resulted in an offer of more than £270,000. The figure that I gave was not a one-off; it was a recent payment made last month, which is why I used it as an example.
We certainly take on board the hon. Member’s point that making it clear to people that there are opportunities to receive significant amounts of compensation is part of the way to bring people in, although he will of course understand that, at the same time, we wish to ensure that the scheme is paying those who were affected; it is not simply a way of accessing large amounts of money. We continue to offer preliminary payments of £10,000 as soon as we have identified that an individual will be entitled to an award, ensuring that affected people receive compensation as quickly as possible and do not need to wait for their claim to be finally concluded.
Rightly, a lot of Members have asked how we are going to increase the pace of progress. The biggest way in which we are doing that is by rapidly increasing the size of our casework team. We have recruited more caseworkers, expanding the number in post to 90, with 55 in training or in mentoring roles—experienced caseworkers mentoring new caseworkers being trained. That shows the scale of the increased resource that will soon be brought to bear, increasing the number of decisions. We have also recruited a further 30 staff who are going through security clearance. By spring, therefore, we expect to have a total of 120 case-workers in post and to be training them towards all being on the frontline making decisions.
Aside from taking steps to increase our size and the speed at which payments are made, we continue to look closely at any further improvements that can be made to the design of the scheme itself. We are ensuring that it remains responsive to the needs of those making claims.
In the report, the Committee rightly stressed the importance of ensuring that claims are looked at empathetically and that individuals are not required to meet an unreasonable standard of proof—a point well made by my SNP shadow, the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. The Department is firmly committed to ensuring that individuals receive the compensation to which they are entitled in all cases, including those where, understandably, there is limited documentary evidence given the timescales we are talking about—the time over which a claim is spread.
As I have touched on, the scheme operates entirely on the balance of probabilities, and decision makers receive in-depth training to ensure that that approach is applied fairly and consistently. We have a quality assurance team and an independent review process in order to ensure that all decisions are subject to a high degree of internal scrutiny. I also confirm that we are reviewing— as suggested by the Committee—the definition of homelessness within the scheme, to ensure that any losses are looked at in as wide a context as possible and are appropriately reflected in compensation awards.
In the light of that, we will ensure that all individuals who were left without a home or suffered a detriment due to poor standards of accommodation receive the full amount to which they are entitled. However, I stress that under the current scheme rules, claimants are not precluded from receiving an award for homelessness if they were forced to stay with friends or family. This is not just about someone not having a roof over their head.
Our efforts to promote new applications to the scheme and to engage with and gain the trust of affected communities continue. We will relaunch our face-to-face work imminently—I am sure that those present in the Chamber realise why over the past two years we have, unfortunately, been able to do a lot less face-to-face engagement than we might have liked, given the covid restrictions and the potential impact of hosting events during that period.
We have, however, worked with other groups. In November, for example, we worked with Bangladeshi communities through the Birmingham Commonwealth Association. That links to a point rightly made by hon. Members: while Windrush is associated mostly with the Caribbean, many other communities were also affected. I checked the records during the debate and, to give an idea of the impact on communities from outside the Caribbean, the Windrush taskforce has made nearly 2,000 grants of documentation to those with Indian nationality. There are also, by the way, small cohorts of European economic area nationals who qualify for documentation but, given the impact of free movement over the past few years, would not have been caught up in the incidents that led to the Windrush scandal.
One of the recommendations that the Committee made—I think Wendy Williams recommended this too—was that the historical case review process that was conducted for Caribbean countries should also happen for non-Caribbean countries. The Home Office said that that would require too much in the way of time and resources. So that we can assess that, will the Minister write to us after the debate with a little more detail on why he thinks that exercise would be too difficult?
I will take that intervention in the constructive way in which it was presented. I think that it would be impossible to put an exact timescale, cost and things on it, but I am happy to set that out in writing. Given that I have said it in this forum, I will place a copy of my letter in the Library of the House for other Members to refer to and, of course, I will send a copy to the Chair of the Committee.
We are focused on what we can do. I have held meetings with Caribbean high commissioners to discuss how we can better promote this to those communities and we are keen to reach out, via diaspora groups from across the rest of the Commonwealth, to make it clear that this is not just about the Caribbean, even though I recognise that Windrush is very strongly associated with those communities.
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East highlighted the difference between the numbers of people who have received documentation versus the numbers who have then gone on to apply for compensation. That has been of interest to us as well, so we are writing to individuals who have been provided with documentation under the taskforce scheme but have not yet applied for compensation. Our goal is to highlight to them the opportunity to apply.
Some people, such as EEA nationals, who were potentially entitled by the taskforce to documentation and who were here before free movement applied rather than since, would be very unlikely to have a compensation claim, given the impact of free movement rules and their nationality, yet we are interested to highlight to individuals the opportunity to apply. We have written to 4,500 individuals so far and we will continue to encourage people who have received documentation to consider applying. Again, we make it very clear that this has no bearing on their ongoing status. That matter has been resolved; this is merely about looking to see whether there has been an impact on their life and to bring them forward. We will certainly analyse the response. At a later stage, I would be happy to share some appropriate data in a way that does not identify individuals who may or may not have replied.
A couple of Members mentioned the second phase of our national communications campaign, which is under way. In partnership with our community media partners, we have launched promotional videos and radio adverts, reaching an audience of over 1 million across priority communities. We are keen to target and work with communities. We are conscious that simply taking out adverts in national newspapers or putting things on TV may not be the best way of getting through to those who were most affected by the Windrush scandal—those who were not necessarily the biggest followers of current affairs or the media, who may well have been affected. So we have been thinking about the best methods of outreach, such as community groups, to reach out to some of those people. That work is now under way and we believe it is starting to have an impact, given the impressions and views that we believe people have had of it.
Again, I thank the Minister. He is being incredibly gracious in giving us all the chance to intervene and ask questions. I am encouraged by what he says about the community involvement; that is good news. In my contribution, I suggested that face-to-face or one-to-one follow-ups could be another method of bringing more people into the system. Has he had a chance to consider that?
Yes. Some of the community groups that we have funded reached out and did leafleting and face-to-face engagement. Now that we are coming out of the pandemic period, we are happy to relook at what we can do on face-to-face appointments. As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, that was difficult during the past two years, not because of any lack of will but because, understandably, people were nervous, and in some instances the regulations would not have permitted it. Certainly, we are keen to review that.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) also asked whether estates might pursue the compensation that someone who had passed away would have been entitled to, and the answer is a simple yes. We have also changed the scheme to provide some funding to cover the costs of seeking probate. We were made aware that there was a potential barrier for people who were not of large means, of having to secure probate where someone had potentially died intestate. We have responded to that, as we are conscious that when someone passes away with an unresolved claim, that can be difficult for the family. We do not think there should be any financial benefits, if I may put it that way, to the Government when a decision has not been made until after someone has passed away; so their estate can make the claim on behalf of their loved one and receive the full amount of compensation that their loved one would have been entitled to.
I shall now discuss some of the areas that the Committee highlighted. The extra time today is most welcome, Dame Angela, as we can have a more in-depth discussion than is usually possible. Where a claim is accepted under loss of access to employment or benefits, the Government will seek to ensure that the individual’s national insurance position is corrected. We are finalising that work across Government. The scheme’s equality impact assessment has been updated to reflect the assessments that have been carried out for the recent changes to the scheme; it will be published later this month. I am conscious that I am probably about to get an intervention on what the date will be; we are planning to publish it later this month. I know that the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North has been here long enough that if I were to say spring or summer she would say, “Those seasons can be interesting.”
We are also reviewing our rules on mitigation of loss and our approach to cases where individuals may charge for immigration applications in order to prove their lawful status. One of the areas where there was the most disagreement with the Government’s response was around whether the scheme should be transferred to an independent organisation. We believe that moving the scheme from the Home Office would risk significantly delaying payments to people. Many of the systems that confirm when immigration status existed are controlled by the Home Office, and inevitably the Home Office would play a very large role in the scheme, regardless of where it was formally based.
I accept that there is a need to build confidence in those communities. It needs to be made very clear that the Windrush team is separate—that it is not part of our overall immigration operation, but works separately—and that there are clear protections around data provided to the Windrush team, to ensure that that data is not available for other purposes in the Home Office.
I pay tribute to the Caribbean high commissioners, who I have spoken to on number of occasions about how they may be able to facilitate events where they make it very clear that they are only there to speak on behalf of the diaspora that they represent. They are seen as well trusted individuals who have no agenda other than seeking to help, and they could facilitate events that would encourage those people to come forward. Similarly, we are always prepared to work with colleagues in their communities and constituencies, particularly those who represent large numbers of people who are potentially affected by the Windrush scandal. We can work with them to reach out to those who want to come in and make the application for the compensation that they so richly deserve.
We are keen to focus on the scheme and getting payments out, rather than structural changes that may delay the process. We continue to work with our independent person, and a recent review that he has done concluded that moving the scheme would not speed up the process.
The other point of most contention was around legal access for claimants. We worked with Martin Forde QC to design the scheme to be accessible to anyone without the need for legal assistance. However, for those who want or need support to make a claim, the Home Office provides free assistance in making applications through our independent claims assistance provider, We Are Digital. Most claims that have been concluded have seen claimants receive compensation without any involvement of legal professionals, and we are continuously evaluating how we can better help claimants through the process of their claim. We are working with We Are Digital to ensure that their service is clearly signposted and accessible. We are also surveying those who have made use of the service to see what their experience was. In due course, we would certainly be happy to share with the Committee some of the details of the reactions that we have had from those who have been through that service—once that is finalised.
We continue to review and make progress on the Committee’s key recommendations. We want everyone to get the maximum amount of compensation to which they are entitled. As I have outlined, we have made several changes and improvements to the scheme to achieve that goal. Those include: the removal of the scheme’s end date, an increase in the minimum award to those claiming impact on life, and an increase in the number of caseworkers to speed up payments and resolution of cases.
We remain open to making further improvements, and we will continue to engage regularly with stakeholders and applicants, both at public events and on a one-to-one basis. The injustices suffered by members of the Windrush generation should never have happened, and we must do all we can to put them right and deliver the maximum compensation to those who are entitled to it, even though we know—as was so eloquently put in the debate —that for many this is not about financial compensation; it is about getting a recognition of the hurt that was caused to them when the identity that they hold as special and at the heart of their character was taken away.
I thank everyone who has contributed this afternoon. It is clear from the speeches we have heard that the Windrush generation has been let down and is still battling for justice through the compensation scheme. What concerns me and the Committee most is that the voices of the victims are not being heard by the Home Office. It is not hearing what victims are saying about their experience and how they are finding dealing with the compensation scheme.
The Minister has said a bit about that, but there is a particular problem with a lack of trust in the Home Office. As a Committee, we say that there needs to be an independent organisation to operate the scheme and to give trust and confidence to the people who have not yet applied. It is disappointing that the numbers are still too low. We are also disappointed about the pension issue. I pressed the Minister on when we will have an actual date for that to be resolved by. There was no mention of the occupational pension, which is not part of the scheme.
We look forward to hearing about the engagements that are about to start post-covid, and we would like details of those. The Committee would like to visit the caseworker unit in Leeds, which is, I think, where the Minister said it is. We would like a day out to Leeds to go and have a look at this and see what is actually happening.
Finally, although we have produced a report and the Government have responded, it is my intention as Chair—the same goes for the members of the Committee here today—to follow this very carefully to see what the Home Office does over the next few months, and possibly years. We will not let this rest. We want to ensure that there is justice for the people who have been so badly let down, and that the compensation scheme goes some way to providing the justice that they are seeking and not yet getting.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Fifth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, The Windrush Compensation Scheme, HC 204, and the Government response, HC1098.