Windrush victims ‘should be compensated’ for psychological impact

Victims of the Windrush scandal should be compensated for the devastating psychological impact of missing funerals and relationships collapsing, the barrister in charge of devising a compensation scheme for the 5,000 or more people affected has said.

Martin Forde QC, who was appointed by the home secretary in May to advise on how to compensate people who lost their jobs or homes, or were detained or deported after being wrongly classified as illegal immigrants, said he was also looking at the wider impact on people’s lives.

“The impression I’m getting from the Home Office is that they are very, very anxious to be seen to be sympathetic to claims,” Forde, who specialises in medical compensation, said. “I need to understand what the impact has been – psychological and financial.”

He was unable to put a figure on the sum the government would likely have to pay, not least because the precise number of people affected remains uncertain, but said he had not been told by the Home Office that there would be a cap on payments.

One victim has sent wage slips showing she was earning an annual salary of about £90,000 in a media industry job before tightened Home Office regulations on employing people without papers caused her employers to sack her several years ago; her claim alone for loss of earnings would be significant.

Q&A

What is the Windrush deportation crisis?

Who are the Windrush generation?

They are people who arrived in the UK after the second world war from Caribbean countries at the invitation of the British government. The first group arrived on the ship MV Empire Windrush in June 1948.

What happened to them?

An estimated 50,000 people faced the risk of deportation if they had never formalised their residency status and did not have the required documentation to prove it. 

Why now?

It stems from a policy, set out by Theresa May when she was home secretary, to make the UK ‘a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants’. It requires employers, NHS staff, private landlords and other bodies to demand evidence of people’s citizenship or immigration status.

Why do they not have the correct paperwork and status?

Some children, often travelling on their parents’ passports, were never formally naturalised and many moved to the UK before the countries in which they were born became independent, so they assumed they were British. In some cases, they did not apply for passports. The Home Office did not keep a record of people entering the country and granted leave to remain, which was conferred on anyone living continuously in the country since before 1 January 1973.

What is the government doing to resolve the problem?

A new Home Office team was set up to ensure Commonwealth-born long-term UK residents would no longer find themselves classified as being in the UK illegally. But a month after one minister promised the cases would be resolved within two weeks, many remain destitute.


Photograph: Douglas Miller/Hulton Archive
Thank you for your feedback.

Determining the level of payments owed to people who have lost jobs, and consequently earnings and pension entitlement, lost homes, benefits, been denied NHS care or been wrongfully deported or detained is relatively straightforward. It will be more complex to assess how to compensate those who were wrongfully refused reentry into the UK and may have been stuck in the wrong country for years; Forde said he wanted to hear from people in this situation.

Forde wants to get a fuller picture of the suffering caused by the Home Office’s unfair treatment of a generation of people living in the UK for most of their adult lives without formally applying for citizenship, and who began to experience severe difficulties with the government’s implementation of “hostile” immigration policies around 2013.

“People have told us about injury to feelings – feelings of desperation and helplessness – people feeling genuinely very anxious and concerned about their immigration status,” he said.

Some victims’ immigration problems may be swiftly resolved by the Windrush taskforce, which has already begun to process applications for citizenship; others may have experienced a more complex set of problems. “We’ve had people email saying the stress led to the breakdown of relationships – people who have lost their job, can’t pay their rent, are then rendered homeless, their living arrangements change, separate, their relationship breaks down. We need to try to get the fullest picture we can of interrelated claims.”

Forde has asked the Home Office about the possibility of creating a BBC broadcast to urge potential victims to come forward and to allay concern that some have been so marginalised by their documentation issues that they may not be aware of the need to register claims for compensation. He is also urging more people to write in with their experiences in the next week before the call for evidence closes, and hopes that the scheme will be publicised in Jamaica and elsewhere.

Forde is hoping to devise a sufficiently simple scheme allowing victims to apply for help without needing legal advice. He and civil servants are currently studying previous schemes that have, with varying levels of success, tried to compensate victims of HIV and haemophilia, asbestosis and sexual abuse scandals.

He was anxious to avoid the mistakes of historical payment programmes that have proved so complex that the government has ended up paying out more to lawyers than victims. “Taxpayers would prefer that the money went to people who need the compensation,” he said. He will be looking at existing guidelines for damages payments made to victims in personal injury cases, so that payouts are consistent with an already-established standard. “The advantage of compensation schemes can be that you recognise that you are righting a wrong in a way that wouldn’t necessarily result in an award of monetary compensation if you took the matter to court.”

While Forde said it was complicated to establish how to put a figure, for example, on the suffering of bereaved children unable to visit parents before their deaths, he was confident that a workable scheme could be created. “It is challenging, but I do think there is a solution,” he said.

Some people wanted “recognition of that suffering more than the money, but also where they have suffered financial loss that can be identified and quantified they should be adequately compensated”, he said.

Trained to be “dispassionate and objective” in his professional approach, he said he felt angry on behalf of those affected. “They don’t deserve to have these feelings of rejection from a country where they have lived for far longer than they ever lived in the country that they were born in,” he said.

His determination to create an effective scheme was partly fuelled by the experience of his parents who came to the UK from Barbados and St Lucia. “My father did national service here. As children they were told that they were going to rebuild this country post-war; they were told that this was the mother country,” he said.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/rss