Sunak defends Home Office on Windrush as Starmer pledges to change department

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said the Home Office is “working hard” on the compensation scheme for the Windrush scandal, as Sir Keir Starmer called for reform to the department to ensure “injustices are put right”.

The Conservative and Labour leaders were both asked about the delayed compensation scheme for victims of the scandal as Saturday marked 76 years since the HMT Empire Windrush arrived in England.

The ship brought people from the Caribbean who answered Britain’s call to help fill post-war labour shortages.

The Windrush scandal erupted in 2018 when British citizens were wrongly detained, deported or threatened with deportation despite having the right to live in Britain.

Many lost homes and jobs and were denied access to healthcare and benefits.

Sir Keir Starmer sits at a table drinking coffee with members of the Windrush generation
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer attends a coffee morning with members of the Windrush generation at a school in Vauxhall, London (Aaron Chown/PA)

A total of 8,477 claims had been made by the end of May, with 928 still in the system, 59 suspended and 7,490 had been given a final decision.

On Saturday Sir Keir met people who came to Britain during that time, and their family members, at the Lilian Baylis Technology school in Vauxhall, south London.

The Labour leader outlined his party’s plans to tackle delayed compensation for those affected by the scandal.

He said: “Today is Windrush day so it’s a day about telling the history of Windrush, the great contribution that’s been made to this country and the change that brought about, but it also needs to be a reset day.

“And that’s why I was very pleased to be able to talk to people about this reset today because the compensation scheme which is there to deal with the real injustice is going too slowly.

“We’ve got too many examples of people who’ve died before they’ve got the compensation that they’re entitled to.

“The Windrush unit needs to be re-established in the Home Office and we will set up a permanent commissioner to be a champion and an advocate for the Windrush generation to make sure that these injustices are put right.”

Meanwhile Mr Sunak defended the Home Office amid claims from Windrush campaigners that thousands of people still have not been granted citizenship.

When the scandal was uncovered, the Conservative Government promised to right the wrongs of what had happened, but the compensation scheme has been repeatedly criticised for the speed at which claims are being processed and payments made.

The High Court ruled that a Government decision to drop two proposed measures, related to a commitment to establish a migrants’ commissioner and to increase the powers of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI), was unlawful and had a “disproportionately prejudicial effect upon Windrush victims”.

Rishi Sunak sits next to a woman at a table with food and bottles
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a meeting with representatives of the night-time economy in central London (Benjamin Cremel/PA)

“I think over 16,000 people now have been given the appropriate documentation that they deserve and tens of millions of pounds in compensation has been paid out and something like 200 different community and outreach events have also been organised.

“But of course the Home Office is always reflecting, taking on feedback and seeing how it can improve and make sure that we right the wrongs of the past.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey also said that all political parties should commit to proper compensation for victims of the scandal.

Asked about Labour’s promise to expedite compensation, the Lib Dem leader said: “I think that’s right. I think we have been disappointed that the Conservatives said they were going to compensate people affected by the Windrush scandal.

“I think the British public want them to, they’ve seen how people have been so badly treated.”

He added: “I think all parties should commit to proper compensation for people who’ve been victims of the Windrush scandal.”

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