UK lawmakers slam government for failing Windrush victims

LONDON (AP) — British lawmakers excoriated the government Tuesday for failing victims of the Windrush scandal, accusing officials of ignoring the plight of those whose lives were torn apart when the authorities improperly questioned their right to be in the U.K.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said a compensation program run by the Home Office was overly complex, too slow to hand out money and understaffed, initially employing just six people to deal with a predicted 15,000 claims. Chair Meg Hillier, from the opposition Labour Party, said it was important to remember how grave the errors have been.

“Lifetimes in this country were discounted, people’s homes, families and livelihoods were interrupted and uprooted, some were forced from the country,’’ Hillier said in a statement “Some were approaching the end of those lifetimes as this tragedy befell them. Some have died without ever seeing justice or receiving the compensation they deserve.’’

The Windrush Generation, named after the ship that carried the first migrants from the Caribbean in 1948, came to the U.K. in response to a government call for workers from throughout the British Empire to help rebuild the country after World War II.

The Windrush Scandal has rocked Britain since 2018, when long-term legal residents from the Caribbean were caught up in a crackdown on illegal immigration. Thousands lost jobs, homes and the right to free medical care, many because they arrived as children and couldn’t produce paperwork proving their right to live in the U.K. Some were detained, and an unknown number were deported to countries they barely remembered.

A program designed to compensate victims has been slow to process applications amid complaints that the Home Office, the agency responsible for targeting Windrush immigrants in the first place, shouldn’t be responsible for resolving their claims. The Home Office in December acknowledged the “slow start,” but said the program had been overhauled to make it simpler and faster.

The committee said Tuesday that despite the Home Office’s “promise to learn lessons” the agency is failing the Windrush generation all over again.

“Far from learning and applying lessons as promised, the Windrush compensation scheme is beset with the very same issues that led to the initial terrible mistakes,” she said.

A Home Office spokesman said many of the issues raised by the report had already been addressed.

The agency has paid almost 27 million pounds ($37 million) in compensation, up from less than 3 million pounds at the time the overhaul was announced in December, it said in a statement. Another 7.1 million pounds has been offered to victims.

“The Home Secretary (Priti Patel) has been resolute in her determination to put right the wrongs suffered by all those affected by the Windrush scandal,” the agency said in a statement.

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