Duwayne Brooks: The Windrush cross-government working group; an opportunity for a much-needed road to recovery

22 Dec

Duwayne Brooks is a former Lewisham Councillor and Deputy Chair of the Safer Communities Board at the Local Government Association.

In 2018, when the terrible news of how successive governments had failed the Windrush generation broke, many parliamentarians and citizens of all political stripes were rightly outraged. Those of us who are from that community were stunned into disbelief.

The real story of the Windrush generation is one of success, not scandal. It is one of contribution, notable achievement, and proud legacy. My aunt arrived here in 1955. She sent for my father who arrived at Southampton on the December 5, 1960 aboard the ship Ascania. My mother arrived by plane, landing at Heathrow Airport in 1970.

Like the vast majority of Windrushians, they worked hard, bought their houses, built their lives, and raised and educated their families right here in Great Britain. The British way of life was a natural fit for their conservative values and strong belief in self-determination.

Both my parents naturalised and received their documentation back in the day. Had they not, I could have been one of the many innocent people who found themselves caught up in an immigration system that, in my view, was never designed to deliberately target or deport Caribbean people. But the direct impact it has had on some of the members of the Windrush generation can easily lead people to think so.

The Windrush scandal has caused indescribable pain to those affected – the kind that is hard for most to imagine, let alone have to live through.

Imagine being told by your government that you don’t have a right to be here, in the country you re-built and called your home; that you’re to be deported to another country that you’ve never visited or have any memory of; that you are not entitled to any benefits, housing or healthcare, despite having paid taxes all your working life.

Imagine being forcibly separated from your family members and experiencing inhumane and degrading treatment in our detention centres. These are just some of the examples of the terrible experiences that people have had to endure and that have been reported in the media.

The beginning of a journey

So, earlier this year, when I was asked to be part of a new Windrush cross-government working group, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. In fact, I saw it as an opportunity for us to start out on a much-needed road to recovery for those who have suffered – but also one that would take us all from the depths of the scandal back to the story of success.

The Windrush cross-government working group, which is co-chaired by Bishop Derek Webley MBE DL and the Home Secretary, gives support, advice and challenges the Home Office on all matters related to Windrush. We provide feedback and insights to the Government, from those who have been affected – be they Caribbean, Indian, African or from any of the Commonwealth countries who were part of “the Windrush Generation” that came to Britain between 1948-1973. And, together, we use our expertise to develop and deliver practical solutions that will help them overcome the challenges they face.

Collectively, the group is deeply committed to righting the wrongs, to enable positive closure for the victims of the scandal, to creating equality of opportunity for those affected – regardless of their social and ethnic background – and to ensuring that this type of calamity never happens again.

Reaching a major milestone

Monday’s announcement by the Home Secretary, to “turbo-charge” payments from the Windrush Compensation Scheme, saw us reach an important milestone on this road to recovery and back to success. In consultation with stakeholders, affected members of the Windrush generation, and other partners, a new minimum payment for claimants of £10,000 has now been established.

This is forty times what was previously being offered. The Home Office is also raising the bar for the maximum amount of compensation that can be claimed to £100,000 under impact on life, a ten-fold increase from the previous amount. To make sure that previous claimants don’t miss out, they will all receive top-up payments to reach the new minimum or maximum.

In a bid to go further faster, the improvements to the Windrush Compensation Scheme also seek to redress the balance for the delays in payments and the consequential distress that claimants have thus far been experiencing. A new “preliminary” payment of £10,000 will now be issued immediately on receipt of an application that clearly demonstrates an “impact on life”. In addition, the Home Office has removed the previous caps on both categories of loss of earnings for those who lost their jobs, enabling them to claim the full losses of being out of work.

These vital changes have given hope to the many people who now stand to benefit after enduring a long battle for survival. 1300 claimants have already received official letters outlining what these improvements mean for them. Sadly they will not have come soon enough for the families of Sarah O’Connor, Hubert Howard, Richard (Wes) Stewart, Dexter Bristol, Eddie Lindsay, Joshua Moses, and Paulette Wilson, who all died before they received their compensation. Even so, no amount of money can compensate for a loss as great as that of a loved one. We hope their families can take these changes as a measure of our resolve to ensure that no others should suffer the way they did.

The direction of travel for the coming year

Monday’s announcements demonstrate a clear signal from the Home Secretary that the Home Office will do right by the people. She has listened, heard and taken decisive action – which is more than has happened previously. But, of course, there is still more to do, and more of the road to travel before we reach the ultimate destination. This includes completing the work already underway to implement the Home Office’s action plan in response to Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned review. So we are not complacent, or thinking “job done” by any means.

As I said at the outset of this piece, the great story of Windrush is not one of scandal, it is one of success. As Bishop Webley says, it is one of faith, courage, hope and determination. So as well as supporting those affected, we on the working group also want to recognise, appreciate and celebrate all Windrushians for everything they have done – and continue to do – for the country that they chose to make their home.

For further information about the Windrush cross-government working group see this link.