Bishop Helen-Ann raises concerns in the Windrush debate

First published on: 29th February 2024

Bishop Helen-Ann today, 29 February 2024, raised concerns in the House of Lords about the effectiveness of the Windrush Compensation Scheme.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend, Baroness Benjamin for securing the opportunity to debate this very important topic.

I thank the noble Lord for his speech just now. It is an honour to follow him and with him I wish to acknowledge and honour those sitting in the chamber today.

I am personally indebted to my noble friend, Baroness Benjamin for being an inspiring role model. Being one of her ‘Playschool’ babies, I grew up with the noble Lady’s visibility firmly in my memory but as a child myself no knowledge of her story or indeed of the narrative of the Windrush generation and the scandal associated with it. She has had an indelible impact on my life, and as I have recently joined your noble Lordships in this House I can say that being in her company has meant that in my role in my diocese issues of justice play an urgent and vital role in my day to day work.

It is timely that we are discussing the matters being brought to our attention. In the other place only yesterday, a question was asked to the Prime Minister about another matter of delay: that of the infected blood scandal compensation. This and other matters of delay (Grenfell, Post Office Horizons) mean that we have a tapestry of issues with redress and compensation seen repeatedly. My Lords, I am also only too aware that the Church of England is rightly getting its own House in order, and that this is process is painfully slow at times. The noble lord, Lord Boateng is working tirelessly in his role as chair of the Archbishops’ Commission on Racial Justice. In her closing speech in a debate at the Church of England’s recent General Synod gathering, the Bishop of Dover whom many of you may know from her role in the other place before she became a bishop reflected that representation at all levels of the Church was not yet where it should be. She wanted her grandchildren to be able to see images of themselves in the leadership of the Church (taken from a report in the Church Times, February 29th 2024). The Church of England has expressed shame and regret at the treatment of many people of the Windrush generation. In 2020, the members of General Synod voted unanimously to apologise for racism, and to give thanks for the contribution of the Windrush generation (and their descendants) to British life and culture.

My Lords, the city of Newcastle is passionate about its sport, particularly football. It is well documented that children of the Windrush generation changed football in Britain forever. They confronted discrimination, and my Lords this happened of course not just on the pitch, but as the anti racism charity ‘Kick it Out’ reports, ‘in addition to striving to be great professionals, black players have had to cope with the additional pressure of beating racists on the terraces, on the pitch, in the media and in the boardroom’ (taken from ‘Kick it Out’’s website accessed 29/2/24). In 1996, the former Newcastle and Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop from his own experience of racist abuse help found the charity ‘Show Racism the Red Card.’ I only discovered the existence of this charity on a visit to Newcastle City Council where waiting for a meeting I came across the charity’s annual report on a coffee table next to where I was sitting. From its North East origins, this charity now works tirelessly across the UK and also plays a vital role in tackling racism within professional and grassroots football. So my Lords, with this sporting context in mind this issue is not a siloed one: it is about all of life, and it is most especially about the lives of those who still wait for recognition and for compensation, and that is why we are here today. There is, put simply, a need to redress injustice, and restore trust in the state. In my own life and work, calls for justice and reconciliation are deeply engrained throughout the Biblical narrative: other faith traditions too speak into these themes.

My Lords, in the light of all that, I find it deeply distressing (as other noble Lords have pointed out) that more than 50 people have died waiting for their windrush compensation claims to be processed. In 2023, there were more than 2000 claims where victims received a 'zero payment' - more than double over the same period in 2022). My Lords it is not hard to see or understand the impact of delays and it is not surprising that clamants feel distrust and suspicion of the Home Office. Claimants feel like they are being retraumatised:asked for documents and proof in the same way that they were asked to try and prove their residency in the first place – this scheme is meant to be designed to compensate for the failings of the Home Office in the Windrush Scandal, and to provide justice for those people – and yet it seems the tenor of many claimants’ interactions with the Home Office do not reflect this. A new report by University College London has found that Government policies had a worse effect on the mental health of black Caribbean people than the pandemic lockdowns had on the wider population My Lords this amounts to psychological distress increasing, and this increase deepens the trauma and injustice.

Calls from victims, members of this House and the other place and many campaign groups to address all of these matters is ongoing, seeking to ensure also that legal aid is guaranteed to all eligible claimants, because this is a huge barrier. I ask the noble Lord, the Minister whether the Government will indeed provide this, or at least a system to recover legal costs? In the progress report on the lessons learnt review and in follow-ups, Wendy Williams said the review of the compliant environment policies remains essential to ensuring the Home Office learns from past experience and adopts a more compassionate approach. This was raised again in this house by the noble Baroness Lister of Burtersett in November of last year (Hansard 28/11/23). Can I ask the noble lord, the Minister once again what has happened to this review? My Lords, we must surely rebuilt the trust of the public in our Government. I fear there is a risk that the compensation scheme that is meant to redress injustice is becoming part of the problem, and source of injustice itself. 

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lady for bringing this debate today, and I commit to following her tireless work in this matter and to offering what support I can in my role.



Powered by Church Edit