Windrush scandal: 'I started taking my own teeth out'

By Jack Fenwick
Westminster Hour

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media captionAnthony Williams: “I had to make a choice between heating my flat or food."

More victims of the Windrush scandal are receiving compensation, figures this week revealed, but is it time for a rethink of the scheme?

For more than five years Anthony Williams was refused access to work, NHS services and welfare.

He had to choose between heating his flat and buying food.

During this period he developed a mouth infection and had to remove his own teeth.

The former Royal Artillery serviceman, who arrived in the UK from Jamaica aged seven, is a victim of the Windrush scandal.

Anthony, along with thousands of other people mainly from the Caribbean, was incorrectly told he was living in the UK illegally.

'Heating or food'

"Things started getting really serious when my teeth started falling out," he said.

"I couldn't chew properly so I lived on sardines and pasta for months.

"I started taking my own teeth out because it was the only way to get the swelling to come down. I wouldn't go out because the way I looked was embarrassing.

"I had to make a choice between heating my flat or food.

"In the winter I used to turn my fridge off, because there's no point in having my fridge on when I can leave my stuff on the windowsill because it was just as cold in here.

"Sometimes when it got that cold I used to go to Birmingham Library. But because I used to get warm I used to fall asleep and they'd throw me out."

Last year, Anthony rejected an offer of £18,000 made under the Windrush Compensation Scheme.

Reforms to scheme

The scheme was launched by the Home Office in April 2019 to offer payments for things such as loss of earnings, periods of detention and the impact that the scandal had on peoples' lives.

Anthony's offer included an "impact on life" payment of £5,000 - categorised at Level 4.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced reforms to the scheme in December after an investigation by the BBC's Westminster Hour programme found that at least nine people had died before receiving their payments.

media captionPriti Patel is warned Windrush compensation scheme must starts start to deliver.

Ms Patel raised the minimum payment awarded to victims from £250 to £10,000 and the maximum from £10,000 to £100,000. She also said the process would be speeded up.

After December's reforms, Anthony had assumed he would receive a new Level 4 offer, now worth £70,000.

But due to a change in the way the Home Office categorises "impact on life" payments, he was offered a new Level 3, now worth £40,000.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm actually losing £30,000," he said, "which I think is unfair, because originally we all thought we were going to migrate straight over on to the new system on the level that we were on the old system."

The Home Office said: "The new Level 3 payment is the equivalent of Levels 3 and 4 of the old impact on life scale.

"This was set out when the changes were announced, and is explained to individuals when they receive their revised offer.

"As with all claims we worked with Mr Williams to understand all aspect of his claim to ensure the maximum amount of compensation could be awarded to him

"Mr Williams has been sent additional communications to try and explain the changes and reassure him that the changes have not resulted in him losing out."

To qualify for the new Level 4, claimants must show that their "ability to live a relatively normal life was seriously compromised" for a "prolonged period".

'Round in circles'

Anthony believes he should qualify for this level.

"They keep asking me for evidence but I don't have the evidence because I was refused registration at the medical centre.

"But they keep asking for evidence which doesn't actually exist, so all we're doing is going round in circles."

image copyrightPA Media
image captionDiane Abbott wants the compensation scheme taken away from the Home Office

Figures released on Wednesday showed that more claimants have been accepting offers since the reforms were announced, with £1.25m paid out in January, but campaigners say victims no longer trust the Home Office to implement the scheme.

In 2019, the Home Office said it expected to pay out around £200m. Last week's figures show £4.1m has been paid so far.

The Home Office said December's reforms were made to "completely overhaul the scheme to ensure payments were made efficiently and that all claimants were contacted to explain how Home Office officials would carry out these new changes and when they would hear about the progression of their claim".

'Hostile environment'

Labour MP Diane Abbott has now joined calls for the Windrush compensation scheme to be taken away from the Home Office, following the release of those figures.

Ms Abbott, a former shadow home secretary, is the most senior figure to support the suggestion, which was first put forward by lawyers and campaigners representing victims of the Windrush scandal.

She said she feels "very strongly that the scheme should be taken away from the Home Office".

She added: "The Home Office itself estimated that 11,500 people were eligible for compensation. But only 1,867 have actually tried to claim.

"The whole hostile environment stuff means that people just don't trust the Home Office."

Holly Stow, a voluntary caseworker at the North Kensington Law Centre, said "people are now feeling they have to accept" some of the offers being made.

"This big jump in money makes a difference to their life and they've been waiting so long now they want to move on and accept it and get on with their lives.

"They know that's not everything they should be awarded, but they've had enough essentially."

image copyrightPA Media
image captionPassengers on the troopship, the Empire Windrush, arriving in the UK in 1948

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: "We do not accept we are putting people under pressure to accept their offers, and if people do want a review and are eligible for a preliminary payment, they can receive this whilst their review is pending.

"The home secretary has emphasised that every claimant must be supported effectively by ensuring that every category of claim that may be awarded under is fully considered, whilst at the same time keeping evidence requests to the minimum needed to qualify for an award.

"These changes to the scheme are the result of extensive advice and work in conjunction with the community leaders, stakeholders and the cross-government Windrush Working Group co-chaired by Bishop Derek Webley.

"The home secretary has apologised for the appalling treatment suffered by the Windrush generation. She and officials will continue to work with, listen and act to help those who suffered terrible injustices as a result of this appalling scandal."

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