Heartbreaking tales told as Windrush compensation consultation roadshow comes to Willesden
PUBLISHED: 15:23 11 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:08 12 September 2018
A father-of-three left homeless after working for 37 years, the teen who could not apply for a college place and a former caretaker who risked his life on the streets after being denied benefits.
These are just some of the devastating stories heard at the Lewinson Centre in High Road, Willesden, last Thursday as families gathered to tell their Windrush generation experiences.
People came from across London to hear more about a “complex” compensation scheme currently being researched to compensate those devastated by the hostile immigration policies which affected families who arrived from the 1940s to ‘70s.
The compensation scheme and “lessons learned review” was announced by the Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP in July, with the consultation into the scheme set to end on October 11.
Wendy Williams, an independent adviser for the review chaired the meeting with lawyer Martin Forde QC, who is overseeing the scheme’s design calling it “fiendishly complicated.”
“How do you compensate someone who’s been deported?” he said.
George Polion came to the UK from St Lucia in 1968, aged 15, and took up his first job in a shoe factory.
For the next 37 years he worked, paying national insurance and raising his three children. Five years ago he lost his passport. He found it impossible to persuade officials he was British and soon found himself homeless.
“I can’t work, I can’t open a bank account, I can’t get any housing. I’m living in a charity hostel,” he said. “I got a letter saying I can take my pension but I’m waiting for the passport people to tell me what’s happening. Without a bank account the money can’t go through. I am confused.”
He added: “I only lost my passport, I didn’t come here illegally. I want them to give me my status so I can get on with my life.”
Fitzroy, who did not want to give his full name, arrived in 1980 from Antigua which hadn’t yet gained independence from Britain. For the last 10 years he has been without benefits, a home, a job and rough sleeping.
Unable to hold back tears, he said: “Ten years ago I lost my job as a residential caretaker. I went to the Home Office and told them I need a letter so I can claim benefit or look for a job.
“They wrote back to me and they said they had no record of me coming into this country, but I came through Heathrow.
“I know my mother had a passport like every English person. She worked for British Rail getting her pension and I made sure I took the details, date of birth and I phoned them up and I give them the details and they said they had no records of her aswell.”
He added: “I could get no benefit, no housing, I could get nothing. One night I nearly died. I was sleeping in an electric cupboard in Camden, I woke up because I could hear a noise, the crackling of fire, and there was smoke. If I was a heavy sleeper I would not be here.”
Jamaican Bevis Smith, 62, and living in a hostel, said: “The government owes me a lot of money for what I’ve been through.” He finally received citizenship papers two weeks ago, despite entering the country in 1972 with “indefinite leave to remain.”
Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, explained more needed to be done: “Part of the reason people are not reporting to the Home Office is because of a lack of trust,” she said. “We need in the interim to have a hardship fund while the compensation scheme is being ironed out because there are people struggling now. People could just apply which can be offset against compensation later on.”
In a bid to highlight how the younger generation have been affected, Charlotte Bigby, 22, revealed her shock when she tried to get a passport at 16 and her application was denied. Her birth certificate confirmed she was born in the UK, but it made no difference. She said: “My mum was born in 1960 and came here in 1969 from Jamaica and never left. I had to save up £890 to get British citizenship, the Home Office said I was stateless. I couldn’t go to college, I couldn’t go to uni.”
Mr Forde said there was still no clear definition of who precisely fell into the Windrush classification, and whether the compensation scheme could apply to the children and grandchildren of Commonwealth citizens who were living in the UK before 1973 and who themselves had experienced immigration-related difficulties.
Ms Williams urged people to respond to the consultation and review, concluding: “It’s my job to reach the conclusions but I can’t do it without help. It’s important for everyone’s experience to be right at the centre of the review.”
Northwick Park’s Cllr Robert Thompson, “one of the fortunate ones” who got citizenship while working for the government invited people to a Windrush debate at the Civic Centre on Monday.
Take part in the public consultation by visiting gov.uk/ windrush, by calling 0800 678 1925 or by completing the form at gov/uk/windrush. The return address for forms is: Freepost Windrush Compensation Consultation