Nick Thomas-Symonds – 2020 Speech on the Windrush Compensation Scheme

Below is the text of the statement made by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Shadow Home Secretary, in the House of Commons on 23 June 2020.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her statement and for advance sight of it.

I would like to start by celebrating the enormous contribution the Windrush generation and their families have made. The arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 was an important moment in our nation’s history: people from the Caribbean answering the call to help to rebuild the nation recovering from the second world war. Since then, the Windrush generation and their families have had a huge impact on every facet of national life: our NHS, our transport system, across public and private sectors, the arts, culture, religion and sports. But we also know that many who made new lives here did not get the welcome they were expecting. Many faced appalling racism, were locked out of jobs and homes, and were subject to terrible abuse in the streets.

We may have hoped that all aspects of that had been consigned to the past, but 70 years later we have seen an incredibly strong reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for change here in the UK and little wonder. Compounded injustices over generations have created deep frustrations and hurt. The brave testimonies ​black people have shared about the impact racism has on their lives and their family histories has underlined that there is an undeniable case for action. Addressing unfairness and injustice begins at the door of the Home Office, with the appalling mistreatment of the Windrush generation.

The Windrush scandal is a cause of national shame and the Wendy Williams lessons learned review is a damning indictment. It exposes callousness and incompetence that caused deep injustice, while making clear the impact of jobs lost, lives uprooted and untold damage done to many individuals and families. The review sets out 30 important and urgent recommendations, a number of which speak to a deeply worrying culture that has been allowed to develop over the past 10 years. Frankly, it is shameful that one of the recommendations called for the Department to develop

“a clear purpose, mission and values statement”

rooted in

“fairness, humanity, openness, diversity and inclusion”,

and that such a statement was not in place already. There are also recommendations which show the work required on issues relating to race and the need for better community outreach and engagement. It is, frankly, shocking that it took a scandal on this scale to bring such core failings to light.

I welcome what the Home Secretary said about accepting all 30 recommendations, but the reality is that we need yet another statement before the summer recess before we even move towards implementation, when this report has been available since March. I welcome the commitment to appointing Bishop Derek Webley as co-chair of a cross-party working group, but that cannot be a substitute for action. The truth is that we have to see far more in the way of action from this Government to give the impression that they actually take this issue seriously. That is why we will be looking very carefully at the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Williams review. As with the Lammy review, I am afraid that the Government too often call for reviews; they are too slow to act and too slow to right the wrongs. The Government’s Windrush compensation scheme managed to compensate just 60 people in its first year of operation. The Home Secretary talked about more progress today, but she must know that that rate of progress is just too slow, given the number of years that have elapsed since the scandal first came to light and the fact that the scheme has already been in operation for over a year.

It is little wonder that the reception was so bad for the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of yet another review on racial inequality, when the case for urgent action and the steps needed are abundantly clear. The reality is that, yet again, the Prime Minister was found wanting; in an important national moment, it is always words, not action. The anniversary of Windrush is an opportunity to celebrate and thank the Windrush generation, but while injustices persist, this is not enough. To ensure that such a national scandal never happens again, surely the Home Secretary must accept that the time for action is now.