‘Like a blocked gate I can’t climb over’: a Windrush victim’s DWP impasse

Amelia Gentleman (The Guardian) writes about ongoing difficulties and the individual “faces” of the Windrush scandal. She centers on Joseph Mowlah-Baksh, who went to the UK as a baby from Trinidad and who, “after 13 years of being shut out of the workplace due to documentation problems was denied benefits – and left unaware of assistance programmes.”

When Joseph Mowlah-Baksh applied for disability benefits in February, he received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions asking to see his passport, to allow officials to decide his “current status whilst living in Great Britain”.

The former hospital porter has lived in Birmingham since 1959 when he arrived as a baby from Trinidad and has struggled for decades to get a British passport. When he received the letter, he assumed that he would not be eligible for the benefits, just as he has previously been told he is not eligible for a driving licence and not permitted to work in the country he has lived in for six decades.

His father, Andrew Mowlah-Baksh, arrived in the UK on Empire Windrush in 1948, but Joseph was only made fully aware of the government schemes to assist people affected by the Windrush scandal this week, during an interview about his father to mark the forthcoming 75th anniversary of the ship’s arrival.

“I’ve been trying to get a passport for 40 years, but there’s been one disappointment after another,” he said. He was aware of the government’s promises to help people who had been wrongly deported after being misclassified as illegal immigrants, but did not understand that a wider group of people could be helped by the scheme. Mowlah-Baksh has tried to get a passport several times since 1982, when his first application was rejected. He made a concerted attempt to get assistance from the Home Office about 14 years ago when his driving licence was not renewed because of questions about his immigration status.

In 2011, he contacted Richard Burden, then the Labour MP for Birmingham Northfield, but a letter from Burden’s office describes difficulties in getting any clear answers from the Home Office, and his problem was not resolved.

The request from the DWP for passport details in order to progress his claim for personal independence payment, to help with reduced mobility, has depressed him. “When people are questioning you about your nationality and why you’re here, it makes you feel inconsequential. I’ve fought all these battles before, I didn’t feel I had the strength to try again,” he said. “You want to move onwards and upwards in life, but this problem has meant I haven’t progressed in any way. It’s like a blocked gate I can’t climb over, so I don’t know how to proceed.” [. . .]

Mowlah-Baksh is one of five children, but the only child born in Trinidad. His Trinidadian father served in the RAF during the war, where he met his Irish wife, who was working for the British army. Andrew Mowlah-Baksh settled permanently in Birmingham after the war, travelling back from Trinidad on the Windrush ship. He and his wife and their three oldest children went to Trinidad for a few months in 1958, and Joseph was born during this trip. He travelled to the UK in 1959, with his name added in handwriting on to his mother’s passport.

He has spent decades working in construction, as an NHS porter, for a funeral directors, in factories and as a warehouse worker for Habitat, but for the past 13 years has been unable to take paid work, since officials clarified that although he had a national insurance number he was not permitted to work in the UK. He has taken unpaid work in charity shops instead.

“I’ve had six or seven job interviews where they’ve shaken my hand, and said you’re hired, but I’ve been unable to take up the position when they’ve asked for my passport,” he said. [. . .].

For full article, see https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/apr/07/windrush-victim-joseph-mowlah-baksh-dwp-documentation

[Photo above by Christopher Thomond/The Guardian: Joseph Mowlah-Baksh was born in 1958 during a family trip to Trinidad.]

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