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Payback is hell, but it ain’t Tory policy to pay back at all. The momentous anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush with its cargo of willing workers from the Caribbean eager to help Britain rebuild the mother country shattered by two World Wars passed rather uneventfully. There was nothing much to celebrate for those who were targeted by Theresa May’s “Hostile Environment policy, despite promised compensation and another resounding chorus of “Lessons Learned;” most are still waiting for a payout and the Government has just recently announced yet another inquiry to find out what the appropriate lessons actually are. Those applying for the restoration of their stolen citizenship are being fobbed off with “settled status” and another five year wait; Those expecting this Tory Government to pay compensation are finding the process and the paperwork just as Kafkaesque as the bogus requirements of their desperate struggle to avoid illegal detention and deportation.
The Home Secretary Priti Patel cannot have relished the task of fielding questions in the Commons regarding how the Home Office is dealing with the Windrush Compensation Scheme under her stewardship. She began her statement by acknowledging the celebration of Windrush Day, the previous day and the huge contribution to the UK made by those who arrived aboard the Empire Windrush in the 72 years since as well as “many thousands of others who made similar journeys, and their descendants.” Patel went on to say, “Yet as we all know, they were the very people who went on to suffer unspeakable injustices and institutional failings spanning successive Governments over several decades.” After telling the House she had apologised she said that “on the 19th of March, I made a statement after I received the long awaited Windrush lessons learned review from Wendy Williams.” She then doubled-down on reminding us that, “I have apologised for the appalling treatment suffered by the Windrush generation.”
Patel continued, “The review was damning about the conduct of the Home Office and unequivocal about the ‘institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the…race and the history of the Windrush generation’ by the Department. There are serious and significant lessons for the Home Office to learn in the way it operates.” Tory Governments don’t have a credible track record when it comes to ‘Lessons Learned;’ this hackneyed phrase is Tory code for: ‘bury under the rug!’ She said, “I and the permanent secretary are currently reviewing its leadership, culture and practices, and the way it views and treats all parts of the community it serves.” Ah, there’s another word the Tories love sadly their concept of ‘review’ is an open invitation to endless delay and procrastination.
Always expect the exact opposite when an MP uses the word ‘clear;’ it would be helpful if the word was avoided or banned from political debate. Patel claimed, “I was clear that when Wendy Williams published her lessons learned review, I would listen and act. I have heard what she has said, and I will be accepting the recommendations that she has made in full.” That assurance will come back to haunt her as she pledged to, “come back to update the House before the summer recess on how we will be implementing the recommendations.” Despite her insistence of “working tirelessly to support the most urgent cases and those most in need…” opposition MPs were keen to remind her of the chronic delays. She would have to rely on her Tory colleagues to faun on her over the belated efforts of her department; well practiced at PMQs Tory ‘stroking’ to invite a self-congratulatory response is not worthy of being documented here.
Patel outlined the timeline saying, ”In April 2018, the Home Office set up the Windrush taskforce to ensure that those who needed documentation immediately could get it. A month later, the Windrush scheme was launched, providing free citizenship to those eligible for it. The Home Office has a dedicated vulnerable persons team in place to provide immediate support to people suffering with a range of vulnerabilities, including the financial hardships and destitutions that have been well documented. The team also administers the urgent and exceptional payments scheme, which provides immediate financial payments. To the end of March this year, the team has made 35 payments, totalling more than £46,000.” Considering the immense scale of the Windrush scandal and the crippling range of its damages the paltry amount of compensation actually paid out in the past two years was jaw dropping.
Reassuring the House that “Work is continuing unabated…” Patel resorted to the typical language of patronage saying that, “So far, more than 12,000 people have been granted documentation by the Windrush taskforce, including more than 5,900 grants of citizenship, and the compensation scheme continues to make payments to compensate the losses and impacts that individuals suffered as a result of not being able to demonstrate their lawful status.” You cannot ‘grant’ citizenship to someone who is already a citizen as acknowledged by her admission of “their lawful status.” As repeated multiple times in her responses Patel insisted that “The scheme was set up and designed with the backing of Martin Forde QC, in close consultation with those who were affected by the scandal.” Although she announced extension of the scheme “until April 2023 to give those who need our help as much time as they need to apply,” this implied that the Government wanted a lot more time to torment and procrastinate over payments.
After talk of “continuing to process individual claims as quickly as possible,” Patel reverted to that red flag of Tory ‘clarity,” saying “But let me be clear: it is not a blanket one-size-fits-all scheme. It was deliberately designed with community leaders and Martin Forde QC so that the claimant is at the heart of each and every claim.” Patel was inviting the opposition to blame Martin Forde QC or the victims themselves for the delays rather than her not-fit-for-purpose Home Office. She said, “Cases deserve to be processed individually with the care and sensitivity that they deserve, so that the maximum payment can be made to every single person.” In reality this is in accordance with standard Tory policy a painfully slow and humiliating process with compensation begrudgingly paid only when it cannot be avoided. Stating, “I simply will not call for targets when it comes to dealing with claims.” She belaboured the point about “dignity and the respect” that is so classically totally absent from any program implemented by a Tory Government.
Patel elaborated on the, “very wide range of categories—far more than any comparable compensation scheme.” The list was a shameful incitement of the racist policy of the ‘Hostile Environment’ her Government had implemented, from immigration fees to loss of earnings, withheld benefits and the impact of homelessness and destitution. She said, “Overall, it covers 13 separate categories. Assessing claims in this way is ultimately beneficial to those who are making them, but it takes time to assess them and it takes time to get it right. While claims are being processed in full, many interim and exceptional payments have been made to make sure that people have access to money—to the funds that they need now.” Going on to say that, “The rate of claims has already increased significantly in the past few months: as of the end of March, more than £360,000 had been awarded, and further offers have been made of approximately £280,000.” Considering the number of people involved, the duration and extent of their suffering this was a drop in the bucket.
Whenever Tories want to sound like they are offering the moon they start with the words ‘I can confirm’ Patel said that, “more than £1 million has been offered in claims so far,” forgetting that she had already told us that the amount offered was, “approximately £280,000.” She was preaching to the choir when she said, “Now is the time for more action.” Patel claimed that, “Anyone who needs help or support to make a claim will receive it. The Home Office has funded Citizens Advice to provide free independent advice and support, and has hosted or attended more than 100 engagement and outreach events throughout the United Kingdom. As Members know, my door is always open, so I urge Members of the House to ensure that their constituents’ cases or concerns are raised immediately with me and my team so that they are progressed and resolved.” She then talked of launching a digital engagement programme so that outreach can continue despite the current social distancing measures and splashed the cash with “a £500,000 fund for community organisations to run outreach, promotional and support activities to increase awareness.”
Acknowledging that there were “a range of other issues and injustices affecting the Windrush generation and their families,” she boasted of yet another review saying, “Yesterday, I announced a new Windrush cross-Government working group, which I will co-chair with Bishop Derek Webley. The group brings together community leaders with senior representatives from a number of Government Departments to address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants, spanning programmes on education, work, health and much more.” She enlisted our racist PM in her ongoing program of procrastination.
Saying of the Windrush generation, “No one should have suffered the uncertainty, complication and hardships brought on by the mistakes of successive Governments,” Patel demonstrated she was eager to share the blame with other parties. “Now is the time for more action across the Government to repay that debt of gratitude and to eliminate the challenges that still exist for them and their descendants.”
Speaking glowingly of “celebrating the enormous contribution the Windrush generation and their families have made,” Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds said, “Many faced appalling racism, were locked out of jobs and homes, and were subject to terrible abuse in the streets.” Connecting with the recent demands for change he said, “We may have hoped that all aspects of that had been consigned to the past, but 70 years later we have seen an incredibly strong reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for change here in the UK and little wonder. Compounded injustices over generations have created deep frustrations and hurt. The brave testimonies black people have shared about the impact racism has on their lives and their family histories has underlined that there is an undeniable case for action. Addressing unfairness and injustice begins at the door of the Home Office, with the appalling mistreatment of the Windrush generation.”
Thomas-Symonds described the Windrush scandal as, “a cause of national shame and the Wendy Williams lessons learned review is a damning indictment. It exposes callousness and incompetence that caused deep injustice, while making clear the impact of jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to many individuals and families. The review sets out 30 important and urgent recommendations, a number of which speak to a deeply worrying culture that has been allowed to develop over the past 10 years. Expressing shock he said, “Frankly, it is shameful that one of the recommendations called for the Department to develop ‘a clear purpose, mission and values statement’ rooted in ‘fairness, humanity, openness, diversity and inclusion,’ and that such a statement was not in place already. There are also recommendations which show the work required on issues relating to race and the need for better community outreach and engagement. It is, frankly, shocking that it took a scandal on this scale to bring such core failings to light.”
Despite welcoming the Home Secretary’s accepting all 30 recommendations, Thomas-Symonds was alarmed by the delays saying, “…the reality is that we need yet another statement before the summer recess before we even move towards implementation, when this report has been available since March. I welcome the commitment to appointing Bishop Derek Webley as co-chair of a cross-party working group, but that cannot be a substitute for action.” He hit the Tory Bovernment with a reality check saying, “The truth is that we have to see far more in the way of action from this Government to give the impression that they actually take this issue seriously. That is why we will be looking very carefully at the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Williams review. As with the Lammy review, I am afraid that the Government too often call for reviews; they are too slow to act and too slow to right the wrongs.” All review and no do is the Tory mantra!
Thomas-Symonds was scathing in his rebuke, “The Government’s Windrush compensation scheme managed to compensate just 60 people in its first year of operation. The Home Secretary talked about more progress today, but she must know that that rate of progress is just too slow, given the number of years that have elapsed since the scandal first came to light and the fact that the scheme has already been in operation for over a year. It is little wonder that the reception was so bad for the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of yet another review on racial inequality, when the case for urgent action and the steps needed are abundantly clear. The reality is that, yet again, the Prime Minister was found wanting; in an important national moment, it is always words, not action. The anniversary of Windrush is an opportunity to celebrate and thank the Windrush generation, but while injustices persist, this is not enough. To ensure that such a national scandal never happens again, surely the Home Secretary must accept that the time for action is now.”
Patel Responded defensively claiming she had been, “unequivocal on the change that is required at the Home Office.” She then made the rude assumption that her opposition counterpart had not bothered to research her previous statements to the House by saying, “When I made my original statement following the publication of the ‘Windrush lessons learned review,’ the hon. Gentleman was not in his current role, so he would not have heard the full statement that I gave then, or the answers that I gave to the many questions.” Thomas-Symonds had no opportunity to correct her as she continued saying, “I apologised for the absolutely appalling scandal that took place and I will continue not just to apologise but to ensure that the Home Office in particular learns the lessons and fundamentally changes its culture, the leadership and the way in which it treats people, and becomes far more representative of the communities that it serves. I said that back in March and I will continue to say it until the Home Office fundamentally shifts its own way of working and ultimately learns the lessons.” Tories never learn lessons!
Patel continued with that familiar plea for unquestioning cross-party support and more time to dither saying, “Of course, that will take time. There is no silver bullet to do this overnight, but the first step that we can take is to ensure that we continue to work together collaboratively across our society and across Government to tackle the injustices that were suffered.” To this Tory Government ‘Collaborative’ is ‘my way or the highway!’ She added, “The hon. Gentleman referred to the compensation scheme, and I agree: the payments and the way payments have been made have been far too slow. I am not apologising for that at all. I have outlined in my statement that it is right that we treat each individual with the respect and dignity they deserve.” The ability to treat people with respect and dignity is not a Tory attribute; the public know all too well the opposite is true. Patel noted that she had invited MPs to visit the Home Office to “spend some time with our casework team in order to understand the complexities of the various cases.” These are bespoke cases, and each one is handled in a sensitive way. The Tory track record indicates the opposite.
Patel insisted that, “when offers of payments are made to individuals, those individuals have a period to consider the payment they are being offered,” claiming that they could decline the offer and request a review which would not be conducted by the Home Office but by HMRC, an independent body. Stressing that “it takes time for HMRC to do the review, but that is the right approach,” she said, “It was agreed with Martin Forde and the individual stakeholders who were consulted before the scheme was set up.” This was yet another attempt to offload any responsibility for grindingly slow progress and constant delays, but she then tried to alter the focus saying that, “recent events have shone a spotlight on a whole range of injustices across many communities in our country. The Prime Minister’s new commission is very much looking at how we can level up and at how we can address and tackle those injustices.” She had to dredge up that redundant new inquiry and beg for Opposition MPs to “work in a collaborative and constructive way to move forward on these issues.” That means no scrutiny, no criticism as the Tories accept no responsibility.
Gushing with undeserved compliments, Tory Bob Seely commended the Home Secretary for her, “typically robust, no-nonsense approach of taking control of this issue and for her personal dedication to righting the wrongs of the past, which is extremely important. I welcome the cross-Government working group. Can she confirm that the work of this group will complement the race equality commission, headed by the highly competent Munira Mirza?” The grotesquely unsuitable appointment needed reinforcing. Like the can that got the cream Patel was lapping it up saying, “My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That commission is absolutely complementary to the work that we are doing with the Windrush lessons learned review. We must look at all these issues in the round, in a consistent way, to develop the right approaches so that we can work together and solve the root causes of many of these issues and social injustices.” ‘In the round’ is another favourite Tory expression epitomizing their acceptance of mediocrity.
The SNPs Joanna Cherry is always a strong speaker and this debate was no exception. She was direct in her apportioning of the blame saying, “The Windrush scandal brought shame on the United Kingdom and shame on the Conservative Government, who caused it to happen. Make no mistake about it, Mr Deputy Speaker, what happened was a direct result of the hostile environment policy. The Government must know that and yet, before dealing with Wendy Williams’ recommendations, they have pressed ahead with plans to extend the reach of the hostile environment policy to European Union citizens in the immigration Bill. I am concerned that, in today’s statement, the Home Secretary does not unequivocally commit to the sort of root and branch review of the hostile environment policy recommended by the lessons learned review.”
Cherry continued her attack saying, “It is all very well to agree that black lives matter, but actions speak louder than words, and the reality is that many of this Government’s immigration policies continue to have disproportionate impacts on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. If the Home Secretary does not carry out a root and branch review of the hostile environment policy, this will continue. The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has correctly identified that policies such as the right-to-rent scheme, which outsource the enforcement of immigration control to untrained members of the public, cannot be adequately reformed in such a way as to avoid the sort of discrimination that we have seen result. It is these policies that have resulted in real suffering for people from the Windrush generation and beyond, with people losing their jobs, unable to rent their homes and denied hospital treatment, including for serious diseases such as cancer.”
Cherry asked, “Can the Home Secretary tell us, in direct terms, that she will be carrying out the review of the hostile environment that was recommended by Wendy Williams? Wendy Williams said that the review should approach the measures of the hostile environment individually and cumulatively and demonstrate a plan to mitigate any particular cohorts impacted. She said that the review must be carried out with reference to equality law and the public sector equality duty. There have been calls for the right-to-rent scheme to be paused in the meantime and for the Government to consider pausing all other hostile environment measures until their effectiveness and impact can be evidenced. Will the Home Secretary state unequivocally for the record that this review of the hostile environment policy will happen, and will she give us a timescale today? Will she tell us whether the measures, such as the right-to-rent scheme, will be paused pending the outcome of the hostile environment policy? Finally, if assisting victims of the Windrush scandal is so complicated, why not extend legal aid t the lawyers who are trying to help them? That would be far more effective than inviting Members of Parliament into the Home Office.”
Patel acting the bruised Tory as if it was not well deserved said defensively, “I am sorry that the hon. and learned Lady takes that tone. We have resourced third-party organisations, stakeholder groups and citizens advice bureaux to provide outreach and help and support. She may have constituents who have suffered from Windrush injustices, but I appreciate that she does not want to take up the offer to work in a constructive manner to find justice for her constituents.” Patel was trying to insinuate that Cherry was unwilling to work on behalf of her constituents. It was now time to hit back with wholesale whataboutery she accused Cherry of, “selectively quoting and reading from Wendy’s report—a set of measures that evolved under Labour Governments and the coalition and under Governments covering decades. The root causes can be traced back to legislation from the 1960s and 1980s, much of which is complex. I appreciate that the hon. and learned Lady has not fully read the report and is quoting selectively.” It was insulting Cherry to suggest she had not read the report and she responded by demanding Patel, “Answer my questions.”
There was never going to be a response to Cherry’s direct questions/ Patel replied evasively, “As I have said, I will return to the House to outline how we will be implementing the recommendations from the lessons learned review.” The scathed cat really craved a bit more cream and the compliantly obsequious Tory MP Brandon Clark-Smith was next to respond drawing rather loud laughter from the relatively empty chamber for saying, “The UK has always welcomed those from other nations, and we can rightly be proud of our open and inclusive society.” He claimed the right to this broad statement by saying that, “I speak as somebody who is married to one such person who emigrated here to work for our fantastic NHS.” This was followed by a rather standard invitation to indulge in self-congratulatory bragging as is so common with Tory non-questions.
Yvette Cooper weighed in for Labour welcoming Patel’s, “commitment to accept all of Wendy Williams’ recommendations, but also ask her about the compensation scheme, because she did not include the latest figures in her statement? She will know that in our Home Affairs Committee report on Windrush two years ago, we raised four personal cases of injustice. Sadly, two of them have since died without receiving anything at all. I have heard from several people who were told in January that their case was near finalised and was in quality assurance, but have had no progress since, including Anthony Williams, who served in our armed forces for 13 years, and Andrew Bynoe, who was made homeless as a result of the Windrush scandal.” Cooper asked, “Does the right hon. Lady accept that keeping people in hardship and waiting in limbo like this compounds the injustice that they have already felt? Will she tell the House how many cases have now received payments? What proportion are still outstanding? Is it true that that is still over 90%? How many people have been waiting more than a year? Will she increase the staffing of the compensation unit, so that we can urgently get people support and compensation for the injustice that was so wrongly meted to them?”
Patel couldn’t dodge the specifics of a couple of high profile cases so she agreed to give them her personal attention, she claimed, “I am reviewing all the claims myself, and I have here a bundle of individual claims that Members have raised with me directly. I have been specifically told by the permanent secretary overseeing this at the Home Office that additional resources are not required for the Windrush compensation claim team. I check that every single week. These claims take time, for the reasons that I have outlined.” Despite the appallingly slow response times Patel was willing to accept that her not-fit-for-purpose Home Office did not need additional resources!
Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi said, “The immoral Windrush scandal occurred because of the Tory Government’s hostile environment policy. Despite hon. Members and community organisations demanding justice for more than two years for the tens of thousands of victims, of the mere 1,275 people who have claimed compensation thus far only 60 payments have been made, and 529 people have had to wait for more than a year. Does the Home Secretary concede that this neatly sums up the attitude of the Government and the contempt in which they hold long-suffering individuals? Just like with the hapless victims of the deadly Grenfell fire tragedy, this callous Government have no intention whatever of delivering full, proper and timely justice for those who have been so unconscionably wronged.” Not Grenfell as well; Patel responded curtly saying, “I dispute and disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s tone and his comments. I am not sure whether he has read Wendy Williams’s review; I do not think so.”
Joanna Cherry piped up demanding she, “Cut the constant ad hominem comments! Patel was getting riled snapping, “Would the hon. and learned Lady let me respond to the question from the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi),without intervening? It was time to spread the blame around, cited the report she said, “contains quotes attributed as far back as 2009—to a previous Labour Government—on the hostile environment. There are many quotes with regard to members of the then Labour Government who expressed a desire to make the UK a hostile environment, including wanting to make those living here illegally ever ‘more uncomfortable’ and the need to flush out illegal immigrants. That is the type of language that, right now, we should not be using.” It was shameless whataboutery at its worst; she was not going to tolerate any targeted criticism of the Tory Party, she added, “I am very sorry that he has chosen to politicise the issue in such an unhelpful and unconstructive way.”
Labour’s Kate Osamore cut to the chase when she said, “If anyone wants to see a masterclass in institutional racism, they should just go and watch “Sitting in Limbo”, a shocking BBC drama based on the experience of my constituent Anthony Bryan, who was wrongfully detained by the Home Office and threatened with deportation. Even with that treatment, he has received only a partial payment from the compensation scheme. Will the Home Secretary publish the criteria used by the Department to determine compensation claims? Will she announce a deadline by which all compensation will be paid up in full?” The part of this film I found most shocking was when Bryan was expected to prove paternity of his own children! Patel responded, “The hon. Lady refers to a dreadful programme that was aired just 10 days ago which, as she says, involved her constituent. I understand that an interim compensation payment has been made to her constituent and he has accepted it. I am sure that her constituent has discussed the process around the actual claim itself. I would be very happy to share the criteria—I think they should be in the public domain—and the hon. Lady is very welcome to come into the Home Office to discuss any details”
Tory Gary Sambrook thanked the Home Secretary, “for inviting Bishop Derek Webley, a well-respected Birmingham church leader, to engage as co-chair of the working group.” It was that last bit of cream Patel needed as the gruelling debate drew to a close, she described the Bishop as, “exactly the type of leaders we want to work with. I will continue to work with anybody who wants to make a difference and who leads the community…” she waffled on ending the session with, “to ensure that we provide the justice that individuals are looking for.” The justice people are looking for would see Patel and her wretched Tory cabal removed from office. We will not see peace or justice until the Covert 2019 Rigged Election has been exposed, fully investigated and we are able to restore democracy in the UK. If this goal cannot be accomplished before we lose the protection of the EU and the court of Human Rights we will all be stripped of our Human Rights and the authoritarian Tory dictatorship will take decades to remove.