Home Office teams set up to address the Windrush scandal have included the same civil servants who implemented the policy, which was widely criticised as being racist and unjust.
As a result, the most senior black Home Office employee with responsibility for the Windrush compensation scheme resigned earlier this year characterising it as racist and unfit for purpose.
Meanwhile, a different set of complaints over discrimination within a separate Home Office team investigating the causes of the Windrush scandal has led to an internal investigation being launched.
The Windrush scandal
In 2018, the Windrush policy, part of the ‘hostile environment’ suite of initiatives, saw people wrongly detained, denied legal rights, threatened with deportation, and, in at least 83 cases, wrongly deported from the UK by the Home Office. Many of those affected had been born British subjects and had arrived in the UK before 1973, particularly from Caribbean countries as members of the “Windrush generation”.
According to the Guardian, Alexandra Ankrah, a former barrister who was head of policy in the Windrush compensation scheme, resigned in April, after a year on the team, because she lost confidence in a programme that she alleged was “not supportive of people who have been victims” and which “doesn’t acknowledge their trauma”.
Ankrah said she was disturbed by the presence on the compensation team of several Home Office staff who had previously helped implement the hostile environment policies that had had such a discriminatory impact.
“These were the very same people who hadn’t questioned the Windrush situation in the first place,” she said. “It is unusual, is it not, to have the same bit of the organisation in charge of the complaints? You normally have some type of separation at least to show credibility.”
Additionally, many of the proposals she made to improve the scheme – most around speeding up compensation and providing clearer information and guidance – had been rejected, she told the newspaper.
Ankrah was also disturbed by many comments she thought were telling about attitudes of Home Office employees. She said staff were grudging about payments and told her: “People should be happy with whatever they get.”
She emphasised to the Guardian she was not a disgruntled employee and did not have any intention of seeking a tribunal hearing. She said she simply wanted to help with the process of ensuring justice for the Windrush generation.
By late last month, far fewer people had applied for or received compensation than had been expected with only £1.6m being paid out and just a couple of hundred applications. Several thousand are thought to qualify for compensation that could cost the Home Office in the region of £500m.
At least nine people have died before receiving compensation they applied for.
The Home Office said it rejected any suggestion that the scheme was discriminatory.
Whistleblowers from the Lessons Learned Windrush review echoed Ankrah’s concerns, with some feeling uneasy that entrenched Home Office styles of working made staff insensitive on the issue of race.
The Guardian reported one as stating: “It’s not just racism. It is an unwillingness to look with any curiosity or genuine concern at the situation of victims, many of whom were elderly and unwell,” she said. As a result, a group of predominantly black and Asian people were being “re-traumatised” by the compensation scheme.
About 20 staff members working on the independent Windrush Lessons Learned review by Wendy Williams were interviewed by a civil service diversity and inclusion officer after allegations of racially discriminatory treatment were made by minority ethnic staff members.
Separately, black and ethnic minority staff working on the Windrush Lessons Learned review – the third unit established in the wake of the scandal – said they were concerned they were not invited to key workshops and were given non-speaking roles at meetings, whistleblowers told the Guardian.
The Lessons Learned review into the causes of the Windrush scandal was published in March 2018 and is highly critical of the Home Office.
A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian the department would not comment on individual staffing matters, but added: “We take any allegations of racism very seriously and any accusation is thoroughly investigated by the department.
“We reject any suggestion that the Windrush compensation scheme is discriminatory or that it does not support victims. It was designed with victims’ interests at heart and to cover every conceivable circumstance in which a person may have found themselves. The scheme is more inclusive and open than any other compensation scheme in the UK.”