The Windrush monument was unveiled at Waterloo Station to mark Windrush Day. Image: Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
A government-funded monument honouring the “courage and resilience” of the Windrush generation has received a mixed response – as three in four victims who applied for compensation are still waiting.
The memorial, designed by Jamaican artist Basil Watson, features a man, woman and child in their Sunday best standing on top of suitcases. It was unveiled to mark Windrush Day on Wednesday, with Prince William and Kate joining members of the Windrush generation at Waterloo Station.
The government says it “symbolises the courage, commitment and resilience of the thousands of men, women and children who travelled to the UK to start new lives from 1948 to 1971”.
The scheme has been been plagued with problems since launching in April 2019. The government expected 15,000 applications – but only 3,878 have been made. Of those, under half have received a final decision, and only one in four have received any compensation. At least 23 victims of the scandal have died before receiving compensation.
There have been repeated calls for it to be taken off the Home Office and run independently, with a damning report by charity Justice last year finding the low number of compensation claims was due to the scheme being run by the same department that failed the victims.
Vernon added: “On one level, we want to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of the Windrush generation and of their children and their grandchildren, but also, we know that there are still issues around lack of proper treatments for the Windrush generation, who have suffered immensely because of the hostile environment policy.”
Hackney MP Diane Abbott was less diplomatic, tweeting: “Gross hypocrisy for the government to make a song and dance about unveiling the Windrush monument when only one in four victims of Windrush have been compensated”.
Human rights charity Praxis also said it was “difficult to find much to celebrate” on Windrush Day due to the government “failing on its commitments”.
CEO Sally Daghlian said: “Despite lives being wrecked and thousands of people being driven into poverty and destitution by the government’s actions, only a tiny number of people have been able to make a claim for compensation and the fact that only a quarter of those who have managed to make a claim have actually received a payment makes a mockery of the government’s commitment to right the enormous wrong it caused to thousands.
“The Windrush compensation scheme is overly complicated and poorly advertised, seemingly designed to make it difficult to claim. What’s urgently needed is a fair, accessible, independently-administered compensation scheme, and a real plan to make sure everyone who is entitled to recompense knows how to get it and has help to do so.
“Despite the home secretary’s claims that her department has become more compassionate, the Home Office’s latest policies demonstrate conclusively that this is not the case, as they seek to criminalise people for seeking safety in the UK and trade cash for humans with Rwanda.”
A recent review into the compensation scheme by Wendy Williams found only eight out of 30 government commitments to change it had fully delivered.
Joseph, a campaigner at Praxis with lived experience of the migration system, said: “The Home Office has not improved its policies since the Windrush scandal came to light – if anything it’s the opposite, everything is still as hostile as it has always been.
“It’s a slap in the face of migrants – on the one hand you show a veneer of compassion to migrants through the establishment of the Windrush Day; on the other hand you make draconian policies that are harmful and detrimental to the lives of people who have chosen to make the UK their home, and who are contributing to this society and to the UK at large.”
Others were more positive. MP David Lammy said attending the unveiling was “emotional”.
“Thinking of my father who arrived here in 1956 and all who came to this country to help rebuild it after WW2,” he tweeted.
Chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee Baroness Floella Benjamin said: “The National Windrush Monument will be a permanent place of reflection, celebration and inspiration for Caribbean communities and the wider public, especially children.”
“It will act as a symbolic link to our past and a permanent reminder of our shared history and heritage for generations to come. I hope it will be a catalyst for other monuments across Britain commemorating the extraordinary contribution to this country by the Windrush generation.”
Watson added: “My parents, along with a great many others, took the long arduous voyage from the Caribbean with very little or nothing other than their aspirations, their courage and a promise of opportunity for advancement. This monument tells that story of hope, determination, a strong belief in selves and a vison for the future”.
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove, whose department funded the monument, said seeing it made it “easy to imagine the excitement, hope and apprehension that the Windrush pioneers must have felt as they arrived in the UK”.
He added: “Overcoming great sacrifice and hardship, the Windrush generation and their descendants have gone on to make an immense contribution to public life. Britain would be much diminished without them.”