Message to Suella Braverman: you are betraying the Windrush scandal survivors, but we will defend them | Wanda Wyporska

A new report says the UK’s compensation scheme is ‘hostile’. When will ministers live up to their responsibilities?

As we mark 75 years since the Empire Windrush anchored in Tilbury docks, heralding the arrival of many Commonwealth citizens to help rebuild the country after the second world war, the question must be asked: is there any further indignity the UK state can inflict on them?

Consider this week’s report from Human Rights Watch into the administration of the scheme. It confirms the worst fears of the Windrush scandal victims and survivors, many of whom predicted that the institutional prejudice, ignorance, carelessness and inhumanity that drove the scandal would resurface if the Home Office were allowed to manage the compensation scheme.

And so it has proved. The department has created a process so bureaucratic that some Windrush scandal victims have died before they could successfully complete it. To add insult to unimaginable injury, surviving claimants have been prevented from getting the legal aid they urgently need to help complete the process and begin to rebuild their lives.

It is indignity heaped on indignity. The review into the Windrush scandal, led by HM Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, Wendy Williams, made 30 recommendations for change and improvement. She said: “While I am unable to make a definitive finding of institutional racism within the department, I have serious concerns that these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation … consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism.”

Priti Patel, as home secretary, accepted all 30 recommendations and agreed to set up a compensation scheme in acknowledgment of the losses the Windrush generation suffered. There was even a comprehensive implementation plan setting out what needed to be done.

But Suella Braverman has refused to implement three of the recommendations. She has also overseen the gross mismanagement of the compensation scheme.

Windrush campaigners hand in a petition signed by 53,565 people at No 10 on 6 April.
Windrush campaigners hand in a petition signed by 53,565 people at No 10 on 6 April. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA

This matters. There is a debt Britain owes to these pioneers. It seems loath to pay it. The hurt runs deep, for we know, from personal accounts, from stories passed down from generation to generation, how tough it was. I heard this from my father. We know about the reception they received, which oscillated between gratitude and naked, unapologetic hostility. We know that despite the abuse, threats, isolation and violence many of the Windrush generation faced, they were determined to do their best to support the motherland in its hour of need. Many of them had, of course, served in allied and British armed forces during world war two.

They carried on as politicians used inflammatory language to demonise them, as the police brutalised them, and as the education system stigmatised them and their families. All in the hope that their sacrifice would count for something, and that they would be allowed to access the same opportunities as other citizens, and that life would be better for their children.

Now, 75 years later, many are struggling to cope with the trauma of losing jobs, homes and liberty because they were targeted by the creation of a hostile environment and a Home Office that branded them illegal immigrants, and then treated them as such.

This must be addressed, this neglect cannot stand. The Home Office must be stripped of the administration of the compensation scheme. Today, the Black Equity Organisation adds its voice to campaigners and survivors calling for an independent body focused on the needs of victims, and for Windrush scandal survivors be able to access legal aid.

It is unforgivable that the horrific damage done to our elders is being compounded by the gross mismanagement of the scheme and an antagonistic and inflammatory approach to migrants coming from the Home Office.

I had hoped that society had moved well beyond the need for discussions about the legitimacy of describing migrants as invaders. But it appears that for every step forward we make, we take at least two steps back.

The Black Equity Organisation has launched legal proceedings against the home secretary for reneging on the promise to implement all the Windrush review recommendations, and will be working with survivors, community groups and the public to hold Suella Braverman and the Home Office to account. We need to believe that when a government minister makes a promise, it will be kept. The Windrush pioneers need to know that if ministers who profess to care won’t fight for them, the community will.

  • Dr Wanda Wyporska is chief executive of the Black Equity Organisation


Wanda Wyporska

The GuardianTramp

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