All 1 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock contributions to the Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Act 2020

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Tue 21st Apr 2020
Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill
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Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
3rd reading & 2nd reading & Committee negatived & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 3rd reading (Hansard) & 3rd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee negatived (Hansard) & Committee negatived (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 21st April 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Windrush Compensation Scheme (Expenditure) Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 24 March 2020 - (24 Mar 2020)
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick. It will become clear why in a minute. It is essential to understand the history of Windrush in order to put right at least some of the wrongs of an overzealous application of the Immigration Rules. The Immigration Act 1971, which came into force in 1973, gave Commonwealth immigrants already settled in the UK indefinite leave to remain. That was the year in which I entered nurse education, and two of my excellent tutors in mental health came from the Commonwealth. When I was appointed here, they were both alive and really delighted. Hearing that my noble friend’s mother was also a Commonwealth nurse, it gives me great pleasure to follow what he just said. They are why I really wanted to speak today.

The Immigration Acts 2014 and 2016 were part of a policy where the Government’s reforms were based on the principle that the right to live, work and access services in the UK should be available only to migrants who were eligible. The environment and general approach to immigration at the Home Office changed, as a range of checks and controls on migrants’ access to services were instigated. The controls were designed to prevent illegal immigration, remove incentives for illegal immigrants to enter and/or remain in the UK, and encourage them to leave. In practice, these controls were inappropriately applied to some Commonwealth immigrants who had already been given indefinite leave to remain. We now know them as the Windrush generation, the vast majority of whom were lawfully resident but did not necessarily have the documentation to prove their rights.

While it was in theory possible for these people to apply to the Home Office for confirmation of their status, there were application fees and the amount of supporting evidence required posed obstacles for many. The Government recognised this in April 2018 and have apologised several times for the harm caused; the Minister has just apologised again in this House. Measures were announced to address the affected members of the Windrush generation, which included conducting a review of historical Caribbean cases and establishing a Windrush scheme to issue confirmation-of-status documents free of charge to eligible applicants.

In 2019, the Government launched the compensation scheme following an extensive consultation process, with which this Bill is associated. Initially, the scheme was designed to be open for two years, with an expectation that up to 15,000 people might be eligible. I too warmly support the fact that the Government have extended the period of application to 2023. However, it is clear from the information provided in the briefing from the House of Lords Library that even this extension may not be of sufficient duration, as others have said this afternoon.

By the end of December 2019, just over 1,000 claims had been made but only 36 payments totalling just over £62,000. The Government announced the alteration extending the scheme in February 2020, before the coronavirus challenge that now faces us in the UK. I have examined the websites associated with making a claim, which currently state: “Please email your claim because the post may be delayed.” There is further information stating that you might get files of a certain size rejected. Looking at the kind of file one might need to send to make a claim, I have a feeling that it is highly likely that your file would get rejected.

Finance has been made available, with up to £500,000 for grass-roots organisations to promote and explain how to make applications for the scheme. Yet with social distancing currently in place this is not feasible, except possibly through internet groups—not traditionally associated with grass-roots, face-to-face explanations of complex systems. Will the Minister please ask the Government to consider extending the scheme to at least five years since their original announcement? This is particularly important as claims can be made by people who have already left the United Kingdom but may be entitled to settled status. The Government must ensure that these people have sufficient knowledge, time and information to make appropriate claims for compensation and/or have their right to return to live in the UK.

Having argued for an extension of the duration of the scheme, I reiterate the message given in relation to the Bill by several MPs in the other place: that many people are in urgent need of compensation because they face immediate hardship, which may indeed be exacerbated by the difficulties associated with coronavirus.

We have seen a fantastic response to the furloughing interventions from the Treasury, with hundreds and thousands of people being facilitated to make claims this week for payment by the end of April. This is in stark contrast to the complex processes required to make an application through the Windrush scheme, which offers very small amounts of compensation for the loss of certain rights, such as £500 for the loss of access to free NHS care—less than one day in an ITU—and £1,000 for denial of access to social housing. Surely some of these allocations, if they are to remain so low, could be made very swiftly.

The findings of the recent independent review, which others have referred to, are highly critical of the Home Office, stating serious concerns that

“these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation”.

It is worth noting that a national campaign to encourage engagement within the community that can make applications seems to have been very slow and possibly underfunded. There needs to be more urgency in resolving claims and the process should, as the report notes, be rooted in humanity.

This is a money Bill and therefore, I appreciate, can receive Royal Assent without being passed by the House of Lords. However, how swiftly does the Minister expect the national campaign to encourage applications and to fund grass-roots organisations to work with potential applicants will be achieved? These issues need to be resolved so that people whose lives have been severely affected can seek and receive appropriate compensation to improve their futures.

It appears, from my examination of the website guidance to applicants, that those who can demonstrate that they have suffered major physical or mental health impacts that are unlikely to be reversible may receive in excess of £10,000 and, if they had become homeless, an additional £25,000. Taken together, this could enable some applicants, particularly those who were detained in immigration centres, to be awarded immediate payments in the region of £50,000. If such payments were made swiftly to those most affected, it would remove some of the serious defects in the process of handling immigration issues for the Windrush generation in the past. Making some of these larger compensation awards quickly would also probably result in more people coming forward to make applications, which would be a good thing.

I note that the other place raised several concerns about the scheme itself and the low level of some awards, but I accept that it chose to support the Bill in principle. I of course support the Bill in principle, but I ask the Minister to outline how frequently the Government will report on the number of applications made, how many are successful and the levels of payments made to individuals. Does she agree that a report should be made available to Parliament at least every six months over the next six years so that progress to ensure that the compensation scheme achieves its end is properly monitored? This in turn should lead to righting at least some of the wrongs to individuals whose immigration status was, in fact, an indefinite leave to remain in the UK.