Windrush scandal: urgent questions for the new Home Secretary

This blog was written by Emily McCarron, Equality and Human Rights Policy Manager at Age UK.

It’s said a week is a long time in politics, and this week has proved this adage in spades. On Monday, the new Home Secretary promised to leave ‘no stone unturned’ in pursuit for the truth about the Windrush scandal. As an organisation, we want to make sure that all older people can enjoy their later life, so we have some questions that we hope the Government will answer after the revelations of the last few weeks.

The Windrush scandal affects thousands of older British people and their loved ones, bringing them anxiety and uncertainty, simply because they don’t own a passport. People who came here in the post-World War II period with their parents at the bequest of the British Government to help rebuild the country, people who have worked, lived and raised families in the United Kingdom for over 50 years. As a country we need to learn lessons for the future, and those affected by the scandal deserve answers.

The people at the heart of this scandal are at a time of their lives when they are most likely to need care and support from family and friends and also from the state in the form of healthcare, social care, benefits and housing. Yet they were turned away or perhaps, frightened of being detected by the Home Office, deterred from using these services. People such as Albert Thompson (a pseudonym he gave for fear of repercussions that might arise if he used his real name) who was told by his hospital that he would have to pay for his cancer treatment; or like Renford McIntyre, who became homeless because he was unable to work. Others such as Paulette Wilson and Anthony Bryan only narrowly missed deportation. Even last weekend, as the previous Home Secretary resigned because of the scandal, stories of two grandmothers detained in immigration detention for months and facing imminent removal to Jamaica came to light.

It is still unclear at this stage whether there have been older people who have been deported to countries they haven’t lived in for fifty years, penniless and alone, separated from their families. This raises serious questions about whether Article 8 of the Human Rights Act: the right to private and family life, has been breached by the Government. It is also worth highlighting the role that cuts to legal aid have played with it being almost impossible for these people to get the legal advice necessary to challenge the Home Office.

So how do we stop this type of scandal from occurring again? We have the EU settlement protection scheme on the horizon and we know that there are many EU citizens in care homes (in the 2011 Census it was 5600 people over 75) and also approximately 100, 000 EU citizens over 65 years of age, many of whom have been here for a long time and may not have the requisite documentation. It is a fact of life that as we age we are more likely to experience ill health and disability, which can make us more vulnerable and less able to meet bureaucratic requirements, let along challenge them. We saw for example, the problems caused by the introduction of voter ID in trial areas for this week’s local elections, another example of older people’s democratic participation being threatened because of their reduced likelihood of possessing the necessary identification.

The needs of older people and indeed other vulnerable groups need to be considered by the government when developing policy. Otherwise, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, they risk being pushed to the margins, and not living the later life they deserve.

So I have three questions that I hope the new Home Secretary can answer: how many older people have been deported, and what is he doing to repatriate them to the United Kingdom, and what lessons is he learning for the future, with regard to the position of EU Nationals?

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