Who are the Windrush generation?
The ‘Windrush’ generation are those who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973. Many took up jobs in the nascent NHS and other sectors affected by Britain’s post-war labour shortage. The name ‘Windrush’ derives from the ‘HMT Empire Windrush’ ship which brought one of the first large groups of Caribbean people to the UK in 1948. As the Caribbean was, at the time, a part of the British commonwealth, those who arrived were automatically British subjects and free to permanently live and work in the UK.
What is the Windrush scandal?
The Windrush scandal began to surface in 2017 after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the ‘Windrush’ generation, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights. Coverage of these individuals’ stories began to break in several newspapers, and Caribbean leaders took the issue up with then-prime minister, Theresa May.
There was widespread shock and outrage at the fact that so many Black Britons had had their lives devastated by Britain’s deeply flawed and discriminatory immigration system.
Why did the Windrush scandal happen?
Commonwealth citizens were affected by the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation - a policy announced in 2012 which tasked the NHS, landlords, banks, employers and many others with enforcing immigration controls. It aimed to make the UK unlivable for undocumented migrants and ultimately push them to leave.
Because many of the Windrush generation arrived as children on their parents’ passports, and the Home Office destroyed thousands of landing cards and other records, many lacked the documentation to prove their right to remain in the UK. The Home Office also placed the burden of proof on individuals to prove their residency predated 1973. The Home Office demanded at least one official document from every year they had lived here. Attempting to find documents from decades ago created a huge, and in many cases, impossible burden on people who had done nothing wrong.
Falsely deemed as ‘illegal immigrants’ / ‘undocumented migrants’ they began to lose their access to housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licenses. Many were placed in immigration detention, prevented from travelling abroad and threatened with forcible removal, while others were deported to countries they hadn’t seen since they were children.
Their harmful and unjust treatment provoked widespread condemnation of government’s failings on the matter, with calls being made for radical reform of the Home Office and the UK’s immigration policy. In response to these demands, then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid announced in May 2018 that the Home Office would commission a ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’.
The scandal is far from over
For those who have been affected by the Windrush scandal, justice has still not been done. There is a huge backlog of cases still to be resolved. The Windrush compensation scheme is a failure - it is complex to navigate, there is a lack of free legal advice, claims take months to process and compensation offers are insultingly small.
The policies that led to this scandal are still in place. The 'Hostile Environment' - which bars those without the right papers from the safety net we all rely on - hasn't even been suspended for the duration of the Covid-19 outbreak, in spite of repeated calls for it, from those affected by the rules.
The Government promised to find the root causes of the Windrush scandal and learn lessons from it. Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Constabulary, was tasked with carrying out an independent review. We, along with many others including lawyers, immigration advisors, local authorities, employers and charities, submitted evidence into what had happened, and why.
The review was finally published on 19 March 2020 - nearly two years since the scandal hit the headlines. The review makes absolutely clear that the Windrush scandal was not an accident, but the inevitable result of policies designed to make life impossible for those without the right papers.
This, coupled with decades of immigration legislation explicitly aimed at reducing non-white immigration from the Commonwealth, destroyed the lives of many black and minority ethnic British people.
In September 2020, the Home Office published an action plan, which the Home Secretary claimed would ‘deliver for the Windrush generation’ and usher in ‘people-focused policies’ at the department.
In practice, however, the plan lacks substance, is full of evasive language, and wilfully misinterprets recommendations from Wendy Williams' report. There is a failure to address the most important issues - like the hostile environment - head on, and there is a clear determination to maintain the status quo.
We must continue to fight for justice for the Windrush Generation, and hold the Home Secretary to her promise to 'right the wrongs' which led to this scandal.