Friday, 20 April 2018

Sorry Isn't Enough

Theresa May at TuesdayĆ¢€™s meeting with Caribbean leaders at Downing Street

As regular readers will appreciate, now and then this blog goes 'off piste', and so it is that I feel compelled to say something regarding yet another astonishing week in British politics that saw the Prime Minister forced to publicly eat humble pie and apologise not once, but twice. Apologies don't come easily to politicians and it doesn't happen that often. We are still waiting to hear one in relation to the TR fiasco, but that is nothing compared to this.     

When you've been around for awhile, heard about and seen some astonishing things, I guess you don't expect to be utterly blown away by something any more, but words can't really convey how angry and ashamed the Windrush saga makes me feel. I simply could not believe what I was hearing, people from the Caribbean who had answered the call to settle and work in this country after the Second World War, had paid taxes, held passports, paid National Insurance, started drawing pensions, were now some sixty years later being told by the Home Office that they had no right of residence and if they could not supply four pieces of documentary evidence for each of the last 40 years or so, they would be deported.      

As the story began to go nuclear at the start of the week and the Commonwealth Heads of Government began arriving in London, we heard the astonishing discourtesy of No 10 saying that the Prime Minister's diary simply 'did not allow time' for a meeting with twelve of them to discuss the issue. Within a day the diary was magically cleared and the first apology came from Theresa May's lips. By Wednesday the second was made in the House of Commons and by Thursday promises to make amends had been made and a special Home Office unit was already at work in order to 'fix' things.

It was of course one Theresa May who, when in charge at the Home Office, infamously instigated the climate of hostility towards illegal immigration, introducing those dreadful advertising vans that drove around threatening action and stirring up fear and alarm. We now learn that it was under her watch that the carefully-stored disembarkation cards had been destroyed - the very documents that could help determine the legal status of the so-called Windrush generation. This news generated what must be the lamest of official reasoning I've ever heard. Apparently we are meant to believe that the destruction of these records was due to concerns over 'data protection'. Someone is clearly taking the piss.

Throughout this whole sorry, shameful, on-going saga, what has really left an impression with me has been the quiet dignity of those who have been affected and interviewed by the media. I've found their stories of official, abusive and repressive treatment by the state truly shocking and heart-rending and made particularly poignant just as the Commonwealth Heads of Government are assembled in London. History may never record how angry and dispiriting it must all be to our Head of State.

It's note-worthy how gracious those Commonwealth leaders interviewed have been in accepting the Prime Minister's apology. When invited to suggest that the action of the Home Office could be viewed as racist, one said no, it appeared to be a 'cock-up'. Well I think it was yet more evidence of an insidious, uncaring, nasty government that appears quite comfortable to put the sick and disabled through Work Capability Assessments, see the homeless die on our city streets, force the poor to pay Bedroom Taxes, remove Legal Aid from many defendants and engineer a regime in our prisons that is returning many to the Victorian age. For me this has been a week when I feel ashamed by what my country is becoming.     



  1. When you hear a former head of the civil service saying some Tory policies are reminiscent of Nazi Germany, you can see how far things have degenerated in civil society. The nasty party is doing very well under May

    1. Another display of shocking Tory thinking was shown this week by Esther McVey.
      It's shameful, there can really be no other word for it.


    2. On Monday, Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, caused controversy by calling the government’s “rape clause” for child tax credits “an opportunity” for rape victims to gain emotional support. She suggested that demanding rape victims disclose details of their attack to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would offer “double support” – both emotional and financial.

      Since its introduction last year, the rape clause has been roundly criticised by MPs, activists and survivor-led organisations. The SNP MP Alison Thewliss called it “one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall”. McVey’s comments this week only heighten the feeling that she and her government colleagues lack empathy for victims and survivors of rape.

      So what is the rape clause? In his 2015 budget, George Osborne announced a cut to child tax credits, meaning families would only be able to claim the benefit for their first two children. The rape clause was an exemption: women who have a third child as a result of rape could still receive child tax credits but only under certain circumstances.

      First, she must not be living with the man who raped her. This ignores the realities facing women trapped in violent relationships. Many women are frightened to escape an abusive partner, particularly as the most dangerous time for a domestic abuse victim is when she leaves. Forced pregnancy is also a recognised aspect of violent relationships.

      And second, in order to get tax credits for a third child, a professional who the woman has spoken to about the rape must complete sections of the claim form.

      By claiming that talking to such a specialist, who then reports to the DWP, is a form of “support”, McVey betrays a real lack of understanding of trauma and sexual violence. The existing rape clause policy forces women to relive the pain and trauma of rape. There is the process of filling out the form. Then there’s the need to contact a professional who supported them after the rape (that’s if such a professional even exists – many women don’t tell anyone following sexual assault and only 15% of rape victims reported it to the police). And finally there’s the demand a woman recount the experience to a third-party organisation. Far from offering a space for “support”, requiring women to relive and retell this traumatic incident risks causing a great deal of upset and anxiety.

      Even if the third-party organisations are well trained to deal with such cases, the problem remains. She is still being expected to disclose her experience of rape to the government, even if she would prefer not to. As a result, some organisations have refused to cooperate, saying the third-party processing of claims “is not compassionate, nor can it ever be made to be so”.

      McVey should also consider how her offer of support is coming at a time when services for rape victims are struggling with funding. Around 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, and yet the organisations designed to help women are repeatedly threatened with cuts. In 2015, there was widespread concern that nearly half of all rape crisis centres would close due to lack of funding. With continued austerity, the risk of future closures remains.

      If McVey and the government were serious about offering “support” to rape survivors, they would not force women to disclose their violent histories. They would not penalise women who are trapped in abusive relationships. And they would not decimate the safety net that exists to help women. Instead, they would scrap the two-child limit and adequately fund sexual violence support services.

      Rape is a brutal violation of a woman’s boundaries. By demanding a woman disclose this devastating experience to the government in order to gain financial assistance, the DWP and McVey are not offering her “double support”. They are instead violating her boundaries once again.

      Sian Norris is a writer and feminist activist

  2. It's also interesting that the media have been fixated on Labour's anti semitism problem (as if the Tories didn't also have one) which may have been started by the Tories, according to some sources, to try to win votes in the upcoming local elections. That seems to have been massively sidelined by the Tories right royal f**k up over the Windrush mess just before the local elections. Karma really is a bitch

  3. BBC website:-

    The decision to destroy the landing cards for Windrush migrants was taken under Labour, former home secretary Alan Johnson has said. Asked if he knew about the 2009 decision, he told the BBC: "No, it was an administrative decision taken by the UK Border Agency."

    The cards were then destroyed in 2010, when Theresa May was home secretary. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and Mrs May clashed over the issue at prime minister's questions.

    On Wednesday, Mr Corbyn accused the government of being "callous and incompetent" and asked if Mrs May, then home secretary, had "signed off" on the decision which was now "causing such pain and such stress to a whole generation" of Windrush migrants. She replied that the decision had been taken under the previous Labour government in 2009.

    Mr Johnson suggested that Mr Corbyn had been "misled" over the issue: "The previous evening, as I understand it... Number 10 were briefing that this happened in 2010.

    "What she had up her sleeve, whether it was deliberate or whatever - all's fair in love and Prime Minister's Questions - was that the decision was taken under us."

    Landing cards were filled in by Commonwealth citizens arriving from the West Indies and elsewhere, and were used by officials to help subsequent generations prove they had a right to remain in the UK. They had been stored in a basement for decades before being destroyed in 2010.

    Changes to migration rules introduced when Mrs May was home secretary mean those who lack documents are now being told they need evidence to continue working, access key services or even remain in the UK.

    A row erupted after it emerged that some children of Caribbean migrants who settled in the UK from the late 1940s to the 1970s had been declared illegal immigrants and threatened with deportation, denied access to NHS care, had their driving licences taken away or even been sacked from their jobs.

    On BBC One's This Week, Mr Johnson - home secretary from June 2009 until May 2010 - said the UK Border Agency had taken the "administrative decision" to destroy the landing cards in 2009, although he was unaware of it.

    "It wasn't just the Windrush landing cards it was this mass of paperwork that had built up over 50 years. And you have to remember, we were introducing a biometric identity card, compulsory, for anyone coming in from outside the European Union, so Windrush weren't involved in any of that, there was no threat to the Windrush generation. So it was an administrative decision, just at it was a year later, when Theresa May was home secretary - as my successor - and they were destroyed."

  4. Blue Tories. Red Tories. Meh.

  5. Labour anti-semitimism versus Tory racism.

    Tory advice to invited West Indian’s to fake a Jamaican accent to fit in after deportation is unforgivable.

    If I were a black / West Indian Jew, of which there are many, I think I’d vote Green!