2020 was undoubtably annus horribilis for Britain‘s Windrush Generation and their descendants. It was soul destroying as systemic racism wreaked havoc on the lives of Black British citizens, many of whom came to fight for this country during World War II, who helped with post-war rebuilding or continue to serve in the National Health Service and elsewhere.
The Windrush Scandal broke in April 2018 and inexplicably continued into 2020, indeed it deepened. While Home Secretary Sajid Javid and more recently Pritti Patel publicly apologised for the scandal, the Home Office has done little of impact to ‘right the wrongs’ for Windrushers, many of whom are of retirement age and should be winding down. Instead victim-led organisations, like Windrush Action, are having to battle a Government that seems hell bent on prolonging their suffering. Take Windrusher Glenda Cesare’s case for example. She lost her job as a receptionist in a GP surgery because she could not produce a passport to prove her right of abode in Britain under the Government’s Hostile Environment. As a result she lost out on 10 years of employment and her quality of life suffered immensely. To ‘right the wrongs’ the Home Office has offered her a paltry £22,000 in compensation, £2,000 for each year of suffering!
The Home Office and its ‘spokesmen’ like to say that the compensation scheme, published on 3 April 2019, is ‘accessible, fair and generous’. How could this be the case when only 143 claims have been paid out in total compared to 11,700 victims being given ‘some form of documentation’ by the Department since the scandal broke? And why is the average compensation payment only £7,365?
Furthermore, why is it taking so long? Victims like Paulette Wilson have died waiting for compensation. Others have died after wrongful deportation, a practice that continues in 2020 despite accusations of human rights’ violations. The only thing being reliably delivered just now is a long line of independent reports criticising Home Office performance, not least Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned Review, which shines a spotlight on the Department’s cultural deficiencies and the need for urgent reform. Sadly as the first Black Senior Civil Servant to work on policy at the Department I was urging such reform 20 years ago – and despite the passage of time nothing seems to have changed.
Put simply the Home Office needs to understand that Black Lives Matter. It needs to speed up and pay up under the Compensation Scheme. I implore anyone who thinks they are eligible to apply. It is the only game in town for victims to secure redress. We must make it work for them.
The murder of George Floyd in the USA shone a spotlight on systemic racism and sparked global protests in 2020 and, rightly so, here in Great Britain. We have parallels beyond the Windrush scandal. Rashan Charles, a 20-year Black boy, who despite doing nothing wrong, was wrestled to the ground in East London in 2017 and held in a choke hold by a police officer until his body lay lifeless. Disproportionate use of stop and search and use of force against Black people by the police continues, as do inequalities in the Criminal Justice System more generally, disproportionate rates of exclusion of Black boys from mainstream schools, housing inequalities, job and economic inequalities, health inequalities and so on.
The disproportionate number of deaths in minority ethnic communities in Great Britain from COVID-19, whether key workers, such as bus drivers, was another wake-up call. Then came the shocker that hospital deaths per 100,000 among British people of a black Caribbean background were three times higher than the majority White British population. This was yet another blow for the Windrush Generation and its descendants in 2020. To add insult to injury Windrush charities like Croydon African Caribbean Family Organisation UK, of which I am Chair, find ourselves delivering food parcels to elders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which is crying shame given their life long contributions to wealth creation in Great Britain.
The Government needs to move on from endless reviews and reports to delivering outcomes that make a positive difference to Black British lives and the improvement of society in general.
To that end systemic racism must be challenged. That is why, with a sense of irony, I was proud to take the knee with Black Lives Matter protesters outside Home Office HQ earlier this year and have spoken at BLM protests in Croydon, where I am a Local Councillor, and in Town Hall debates. Black citizens, supported by those from all ethnic groups who ‘get it’, need to sustain the momentum of Black Lives Matter protests to ensure that the annus horribilis of 2020 is never again repeated for Windrushers or other Black citizens here or abroad.
Cllr. Callton Young OBE
Chair of CACFO UK
Member of Windrush Action