‘Let us help you’: Windrush campaigners urge people to come forward for free support – even if they don’t want to claim compensation

Subira Cameron-Goppy is Windrush co-ordinator at the Claudia Jones Organisation.
Photograph: courtesy Claudia Jones Organisation

People affected by the Windrush scandal are being urged to get help with the trauma, even if they are worried about applying for compensation.

The Hackney-based Claudia Jones Organisation offers support to people caught up in the scandal.

It is one of the partners of the Windrush Justice Clinic, a collaboration between legal advice clinics from universities and law centres across London, the Windrush Compensation Project at Leicester University, and community interest company the Jigsaw House Society.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) is another organisation offering help in applying.

The Windrush Compensation scheme was set up by the government when the hundreds of stories of those who had suffered from the Windrush scandal emerged.

It followed a discredited Home Office policy which saw British citizens, mainly of Caribbean heritage, denied rights and services and deported or threatened with deportation.

The scheme means people who came to the UK from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1973 could be entitled to compensation if they put in a claim.

Some children travelled on relatives’ passports and so have no proof they arrived in the UK. To make matters worse, the government destroyed ships’ manifests before the policy of deporting the Windrush generation began.

Many of these people were wrongly told they were living illegally in the UK and were detained or deported and were not given access to their legal rights, despite being invited to come to the country to work.

People could be eligible for compensation if they or their parents or grandparents came to the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1973 or if they came to the UK from any country before 31 December 1988 and are now settled here.

They can also apply if they are closely related to someone eligible to claim and had significant losses or are representing the estate of someone who would have been eligible.

No-one knows the exact number of people caught up in the scandal, but it is thought there are thousands – more than officially estimated – with many reluctant to come forward.

Subira Cameron-Goppy, Windrush co-ordinator at the Claudia Jones Organisation, said the latest figures show since October her organisation has helped 39 people with their applications.

“I feel that a lot more people are eligible than we have got now,” she said. “The first generation were very much not about disclosure. They would hold things close to their chest.

“The legal and emotional and mental health support is 100 per cent free.”

She added: “When you are looking at what they have gone through, you are flabbergasted they have got to this.”

At least one Hackney resident told the Citizen that their experience has been too traumatic to even think about applying for compensation.

It is feared there are many more who will not apply.

Cameron-Goppy urged people to get the help they may need to deal with the trauma.

“If you come through Claudia Jones directly you have emotional support,” she explained. “You are assigned a volunteer who supports you.”

She added: “If you do not want to go through your case at this stage, at least allow us to help you with your emotional and mental state and acknowledge all you have been through.”

People lost jobs over the scandal and others lost their homes. Some clients are currently out of the country as they have not been able to return.

Cameron-Goppy said: “Many people came as children, it was not their responsibility to manage paperwork.”

Many have “survived off basic identification”, she added, and this may have hampered their career aspirations in the UK.

It has also proved hard tracking down paperwork to prove their history in the UK to put together their compensation claim and help them appeal if necessary.

Some who came over in the 1970s and 80s were raised in foster care, so it can take time to chase down documents.

Evidence from the UK visa agency takes a minimum of 10 weeks and other pieces of evidence might be needed from local councils and others.

Hackney councillor Carole Williams is the first cabinet member in any local authority in the UK to be given responsibility for Windrush – celebrating the contribution the Windrush generation makes and supporting those caught up in the scandal.

She said: “Everything about this [compensation] scheme, right from the outset, the number of claimants, the lack of advertising from the government, the number of people who are waiting for their claims to be processed, the number of people who have died waiting for access to medical treatment, it is all really shocking.”

The Town Hall made a submission to the government, telling it “about the trauma that can’t be ignored”.

Cllr Williams said: “I feel the scheme does not take account of that. I would have expected the Home Office to believe that somebody’s mental health has been affected and to compensate people adequately.

“People do not want to talk about it.”

She added: “It has been so toxic. People affected by these hostile policies take it very personally.”

The compensation scheme has come under criticism by Parliament’s Home Affairs commitee and Justice Network Lawyers because it is administered by the Home Office, which questioned people’s rights to live in the country and because the majority have not been compensated.

Cllr Williams said people are suffering from “stress and untreated trauma”.

Campaigner Patrick Vernon has also spoken out against the way the scheme operates and the impact of being caught up in the Windrush scandal on people’s wellbeing.

He said: “It’s outrageous, it really is.”

He wants to see a national health and wellbeing programme, similar to the one set up to support those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

His petition calling for changes to the compensation scheme has been signed by more than 133,000 people.

He said the process should be easier, called for funding for grassroots and voluntary organisations, and also wants a full apology included with every compensation letter.

For more information, contact windrushcoordinator@claudiajones.org or visit claudiajones.org.

The charity is also looking for people with volunteering, legal advcocacy or outreach skills who can help support its Windrush project.