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19 November 2020

The slow, inaccessible Windrush compensation scheme is a moral failure

A scheme that was supposed to be easily accessible to everyone with a case for redress is failing to meet that central and basic requirement. 

By Stephen Bush

Alexandra Ankrah, the head of policy on the Windrush compensation scheme quit the civil service earlier this year, the Guardian‘s Amelia Gentleman has revealed

Ankrah, who alleged that the scheme is “not supportive of people who have been victims” and “doesn’t acknowledge their trauma”, is not the first critic of the programme but she is the first to have been intimately involved in its implementation.

The Windrush compensation scheme has all the ingredients of a classic government response to a mistake: concede the principle, then erect so many bureaucratic hurdles between your victims and justice that you end up having to give very little money. At the end of October, after 18 months of the scheme’s operation, just £1.6m had been paid out to just 196 people. Remember that thousands of British people had their right to work, access to healthcare and much else stripped from them by the Windrush scandal and the operation of the hostile environment scheme. Some were deported to countries they had never been to in their adult lives. 

Ankrah made a series of proposals that would have simplified access: an easy to understand version of the form in plain English, and greater understanding and generosity towards the relatives of those directly affected who died before being able to process compensation. 

The Home Office rejects the charge that the scheme is discriminatory. This, to me, seems to be beside the point.

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It doesn’t matter whether the Home Office is presiding over a byzantine, slow and hard-to-access compensation scheme because the vast majority of the people claiming from it are from an ethnic minority, or whether the Home Office is presiding over a byzantine, slow and hard-to-access compensation scheme because that’s just how the government acts when it is forced to make financial or political amends to anyone. It shouldn’t be doing either.

A scheme that was supposed to be easily accessible to everyone with a case for redress is failing to meet that central and basic requirement. The exact nature and cause of that moral failing can be determined by an inquiry – what matters is that the moral failing is taking place now and must be remedied.