BY JOSHUA NEICHO
Windrush generation families have reacted with fury to the “paltry sums” on offer in a Government compensation scheme.
A meeting called by the Home Office to sell the payment system at Lambeth Town Hall last Friday was described as “shambolic” by the most prominent solicitor representing deported or victimised families.
Streatham-based Jacqueline McKenzie, adviser to the Windrush Action Steering Group (WASG) and representative of dozens of victims, said: “It was the most shambolic meeting I’ve ever been to – the worst example of community engagement.”
But the QC who helped devise the scheme, Martin Forde, who conceded he did not agree with cutting compensation to former prisoners, pleaded with families to have faith in the programme.
Protesters from groups including BME Lawyers 4 Justice, Windrush Action, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts and Movement for Justice picketed the event and repeatedly interrupted speakers.
No Government ministers were at the meeting, so the Home Office was instead represented by senior officials such as Diana Luchford, director of the Windrush Reform Programme and Daniel Hobbs, director of the Windrush Compensation Scheme.
Tariffs such as £250 for homelessnessor £500 for denial of access to higher education are being offered. But WASG said of those amounts: “They are insulting. People should be properly, respectfully and fully compensated.”
WASG member Rachelle Romeo fought for 12 years for her father Elwaldo Romeo’s British status to be reinstated. She said “This is a mockery. The old narrative of humouring Caribbean people is in evidence here.
They are taking our community for fools and taking advantage of our vulnerabilities in the most contemptuous way imaginable.”
Eulalee Pennant from Movement for Justice told the meeting how she was due to be deported last year because of her immigration status, although her grandfather was a Windrush Generation member who served 49 years in the British Army.
The group’s Antonia Bright said: “The scandals hone a light on decades of racially-divisive immigration laws for the Windrush Generation and their descendants who followed on after 1973.”
Lee Jasper, who worked as an adviser to former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, said: “The scheme is so complicated you need to have an Oxford first class degree in loss adjustment and nuclear physics to figure out how you can claim.
“It is well-intended, but there are lots of qualifications that lead us to believe that it isn’t capable of fulfilling its potential.
“It looks like it is intended to filter people out. It could be described as a cynical money-saving exercise.”
He encouraged people affected by the scandal to consider taking legal action instead.
The scheme has also been slammed as “derisory” and “a betrayal” by shadow home secretary Diane Abbott and Tottenham MP David Lammy.
But Mr Forde, appointed last May to design the scheme, said the tariffs were based on existing compensation schemes and many claims would include multiple factors and so could turn out to be much higher than the baseline amounts.
For example, he said, somebody wrongfully deported would not just receive the proposed £10,000 payment unless they were returned the same day.
They could claim loss of earnings for the whole period that they were out of the country.
Individuals could also claim for stress and anxiety, and relatives who had to support victims should have a claim.
He said: “The officials were trying to explain, but people wouldn’t let them speak”. “The MPs’ comments are misleading. By allowing people a platform to rubbish the scheme, you are driving people into the arms of rapacious lawyers.”
Mr Forde said he disagreed with cutting compensation to those who have served a custodial sentence of four years or more and has urged officials to be helpful over claimants’ expenses.
He said: “I hope the scheme is accessible. I need to monitor delivery and implementation.”
Both Mr Forde and Ms McKenzie have accused the Government of double standards for not spending more on publicising the £200m fund, compared with the bigger promotional budget for the EU Settlement Scheme.
Windrush protesters are now planning a Day of Action on Windrush Day, June 22, and a lobby of Parliament over the scandal and the scheme, said Mr Jasper. Ms McKenzie, speaking at a public meeting in February, said: “We’ve got to pull out more people to make more noise.
Whatever access you have to make a noise, whether it’s writing to your MP or social media. Because this crisis is not over – as you see with the hardship fund. People are still destitute and people are still stuck abroad.
“This crisis is not over. In fact I think it’s just beginning.” A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister have been clear that they are committed to righting the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation.
“Launching the compensation scheme is a crucial step in delivering on that commitment and it is now open to applications.
“In order to ensure that those eligible for compensation are aware of the scheme and are supported in their applications, we will be holding a number of community engagement events over the next few months.”