Veteran from the Windrush Generation living on £59 a month while waiting for compensation
- Credit: Archant
The “hostile environment” is still alive for an army veteran of the Windrush generation struggling to survive on £59 a month while awaiting Home Office compensation.
Last August, the Gazette reported how Michael Callender was branded an "illegal immigrant" and wrongly arrested in 2008 - forcing him into hiding and homelessness for fear he'd be deported from the country he came to on a Commonwealth passport in 1970.
The Northern Ireland veteran, 62, was eventually given a biometric residence card last July and, with Islington Council's help, he moved into a Marlborough Road studio flat before Christmas.
When Michael first came onto Universal Credit 12 months ago he was given an "advance payment" of £317, which is still being deducted in £26.49 chunks from his monthly total, and won't be paid back until September.
That leaves him with £59 a month, and he's fallen into £756 of rental arrears.
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Now, ahead of the Windrush Day annual celebration on Saturday, Michael has told the Gazette his situation is far from sorted.
"Of course it's still a 'hostile environment' for me," he said. "When it [his story] first came out I thought it was going to be okay, but they just find excuses. "I'm disappointed. I have a place now but my life hasn't really changed.
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"It's all about the money. I don't work and they give me £59 a month to live. It's a decade they have had me on the go.
"I think I know what I'm worth but they won't pay me that."
The Home Office launched its Windrush Compensation Scheme in April, to "right the wrongs" of people who were wrongly targeted and impoverished by hostile immigration policies.
Michael found the application process bureaucratic and complex but he applied at the beginning of May and is awaiting a response.
It can award up to £5,000 in damages. Michael also applied for a British passport last October - he thought this would be a formality, having always identified as British. But his application was denied because of his criminal record and he was reminded that he was born in Barbados following its independence from the UK and its colonies in 1966.
Michael has served time twice for GBH with intent, in April 1982 and May 1991. He claims to have acted in self-defence in both instances.
"When are they starting this whole British thing?" Michael said. "From when I came here as a child or when I was getting into trouble?
"I've only been back to the West Indies twice since I came here. "Anything I've done criminally, this country taught me.
"I think they're trying to use my convictions to cut my compensation."
He reminded the Gazette he joined the army aged 15 to "serve his country".
A government spokesperson said: "The home secretary and immigration minister have been resolute in their determination to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation.
"Mr Callender has indefinite leave to remain which has been confirmed by the Windrush Taskforce and has a claim for compensation under the recently launched scheme, which is under consideration. [...]
"The home secretary has consistently made a purposeful distinction between criminal and other cases. As was set out in the published guidance when the Windrush Scheme was launched, applicants for citizenship need to satisfy the good character and residence requirements."
The Home Office announced its "hostile environment" policy under the coalition government in 2012, when Theresa May was home secretary. It aimed make it as difficult as possible for people without settled immigration station to stay in the UK and has been immortalised through her declaration: "The aim is to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration."
Universal Credit combines six legacy payments, including Housing Benefit and Job Seeker's Allowance, into one online-only monthly payment.