A victim of the Windrush scandal who was unable to work for a decade because of her immigration status has called the government’s offer of compensation “an insult”.
Glenda Caesar, who came to the UK from Dominica in 1961 “as a babe in arms”, has been offered £22,264 under the Home Office’s Windrush compensation scheme.
“It definitely feels like an insult,” the 58-year-old told HuffPost UK. “You’re [the government] making me feel like a peasant – you’re throwing crumbs at me and expecting me to take the crumbs because I’m really hungry.”
Caesar, who lives in Hackney, first found out she wasn’t a British citizen after she tried to visit her dying mother in the Caribbean in 1998.
“When she was in hospital, I wanted to see if I could get a passport for me to get over straight away,” she explained. “And that’s when I found out I wasn’t British.
“I had never needed a passport before because I was a young mother and I was raising children – I didn’t think about holidays. But when my mum fell sick in 1998, I just wanted to get over Dominica.”
In 2009, things became even more serious for Caesar. The mum-of-four, who also has 11 grandchildren, was sacked from her part-time job as a GP practice administrator because of her lack of British citizenship.
According to Caesar, she was unable to work or claim benefits for the next 10 years and was forced to rely on her children for support.
“I had been independent – a single mother having to raise her children, of course I was,” Caesar said. “To have to turn round and depend on your children – no mother wants to do that. You should be able to help them.
“My daughter is disabled – she gets disability for being deaf. I had to rely on her and her money. It’s not a good thing.”
During these years, Caesar accumulated “a lot of debt” and rent arrears and faced eviction from her home numerous times.
“It got to me,” she said. “I went to the doctor because I had contemplated suicide. They put me through therapy.”
“I just felt like I’d given up. I was like: ‘Whatever happens, happens. I can’t do this no more.’ I was just getting more and more depressed.”
Caesar was finally given British citizenship by the government earlier this year.
But the Home Office has calculated that she is eligible for just £13,764 in compensation for her “loss of access to employment” between 2009 and 2019, despite the fact she earned around £800-a-month before she was fired.
According to a Home Office letter sent to Caesar, she is only entitled to compensation for a maximum of 12 months lost employment because she did not apply for the Right to Abode until 2012 – three years after she was sacked –and did not provide “mitigating reasons for the delay”.
Meanwhile, she has been offered £7,000 to make up for the impact her immigration status had on her life and £1,500 in compensation for an incident when she was detained at Gatwick Airport for two to three hours in 2013.
However, her claims that she was denied benefits and that she accumulated rent arrears after she lost her job have been declined by the government because of a lack of evidence.
“We have contacted the Department of Work and Pensions and there is no evidence to suggest that your benefit claims were refused or terminated because of your immigration status,” the Home Office said.
Caesar, who is thought to be among the first Windrush victims to be offered government compensation, is set to appeal the offer with help from the North Kensington Law Centre.
“There’s no consideration,” she said. “If I had been working, I wouldn’t have to come to you [the government] and say: ‘Where are my wages?’
“I was working and I was getting paid, but you put me in a position where I wasn’t able to work, where I have accumulated debt.”
The Windrush Generation were migrants from the Caribbean invited to the UK by the government to help rebuild the UK in the aftermath of World War II.
However, in recent years many of these workers and their children found themselves targeted by ‘hostile environment’ immigration policies which did not recognise their British citizenship.
It meant many were wrongly denied access to healthcare, work, housing benefits and pensions. Others were detained or even deported.
Holly Stow – a paralegal at the North Kensington Law Centre, who has been helping Windrush victims claim compensation – called the government’s offer of compensation to Caesar “outrageous”.
“Glenda’s been unemployed for 10 years because of difficulties establishing her status,” she said. “She was given notice of eviction on her house.
“And the way it affected her mental wellbeing – she was considering taking her own life because of it.”
Stow added: “I think it’s appalling. It just shows that they’ve said sorry, but they don’t really mean it.
“Take the ‘impact on life’ offer – they have offered her £7,000. That is just appalling. Seven grand for destroying someone’s life.”
The compensations should be “in the £100,000s at least”, she said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Home Office said the department was “determined to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation”.
“The Windrush Compensation Scheme has been carefully designed with independent oversight to ensure that we deliver on that commitment and to make sure those who are eligible are compensated.”
The Windrush compensation scheme was launched by the government in April. Sajid Javid, who was home secretary at the time, said there would be “no limit” on the amount of money paid out to Windrush victims.
Useful websites and helplines:
Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 UK and Ireland (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
You can call Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Monday-Friday 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41.
Maytree is a sanctuary for the suicidal in north London in a non-medical setting. For help or to enquire about a stay, call 020 7263 7070.