Saturday, July 20News For London

Windrush Scandal: Why has the UK Government U-turned on its reforms?

The Government’s scrapping of three recommendations in the Windrush report has left many campaigners, victims, and their families disappointed. But who are the Windrush Generation and why is the Government’s backtracking significant to British history? This article explains all.

The National Windrush Monument in Waterloo station has been met with mixed reviews since the Government’s retreat on Windrush reforms. Photo Credit: Tyler Nicholas

In a written statement to the House of Commons last week, the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, 42, told MPs that she would not proceed with changes made in the Windrush report to prevent a similar scandal from recurring. Those changes included rejecting the proposal to establish a migrants’ commissioner, which was recommended in the review into the wrongful deportation of UK citizens of Caribbean descent.

Who are the Windrush Generation?

The Windrush Generation refers to Caribbean migrants who arrived in Great Britain between 1948 to 1973. Many were invited by the British Government to rebuild the country after World War two and took up jobs in a range of public sectors. The name ‘Windrush’ comes from the HMT Empire Windrush ship that brought one of the first large groups of Caribbeans to the UK in 1948. The ship carried 492 passengers to Tilbury Docks in Essex, many of them were children. As the Caribbean was part of the British commonwealth, those who arrived in the UK, were assured they were going to be able to live and work in the UK permanently.

What is the Windrush Scandal?

The Windrush Scandal involved UK residents who belonged to the Windrush generation, and it became a British political issue. In 2018, the scandal resurfaced when it was discovered that many of these residents had been wrongly detained, deported, and denied their legal rights. The Home Office was responsible for deporting over 80 people who had been living and working in the UK since the 1940s. These individuals were denied benefits that they were entitled to, particularly healthcare, and were unable to re-enter the country. Moreover, the mistreatment of Caribbean migrants extended to their British-born children, who were threatened with deportation for several years. In 2018, it was revealed that the Home Office had admitted to wrongfully detaining over 800 individuals between 2012 and 2017. This has raised questions about whether institutionalised racism played a role in the treatment of these victims by the British Government.

Video Credit: Tyler Nicholas

Why did the scandal happen?

A significant number of the Windrush generation arrived in the UK as minors on their parents’ passports, and the Home Office destroyed numerous landing cards and other records. Consequently, many of them did not possess the necessary documents to prove their right to remain in the country. The Home Office requested that these individuals provide evidence to confirm their residency predated 1973 and demanded at least one official document for every year they had spent in the UK. The process of searching for documents that were several decades old placed a heavy burden on innocent people.

Despite being legitimate residents, they were falsely labelled as illegal immigrants, which resulted in them losing access to fundamental rights and privileges such as housing, bank accounts, healthcare, and even driving licenses. A significant number of them were detained in immigration facilities, prevented from traveling abroad, and threatened with forced removal, while others were sent to countries they had not visited since they were young children.

The harsh treatment of the victims brought to the forefront the widespread disapproval of the government’s inadequacies, leading to calls for significant changes to the Home Office and the UK’s immigration policies. In May 2018, then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid declared that the Home Office would appoint Wendy Williams, an author and lawyer, to conduct a “Windrush Lessons Learned Review” as a response to these demands.

Former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid. Credit: flickr

What did the Government do?

In April 2018, then-prime minister Theresa May, 66, apologised for the Government’s treatment towards the Windrush victims and families, and an inquiry was later announced.

The inquiry, which released its report in March 2020, made 30 recommendations, including:

  • Appointing a migrant’s commissioner.
  • Setting up a full Home Office review of the UK’s immigration policy.
  • Establishing a race advisory board.

The report said that the scandal was “foreseeable and avoidable”. It also criticised “a culture of carelessness” in the Home Office. The author of the review, Wendy Williams warned that there was a “grave risk” of a repeated incident if the Government failed to act. The Government accepted the recommendations and began working on implementing them through a plan.

May also established a compensation scheme for the victims, which was set up in April 2019. It was thought that 15,000 people were eligible for compensation. However, more than 20 individuals died before receiving any payment. According to the Home Affairs Committee, by the end of September 2021 only a quarter of individuals had received compensation.

Will there ever be justice?

Windrush Day was created three years ago to celebrate the Caribbean prescence in the UK. However, it serves as a reminder of the hardships that the community have faced over the years. The Home Secretary’s backtracking of these commitments is a major setback for the community and those families affected by this scandal who still demand justice.

Organisations to support Windrush victims and families

  • Windrush Foundation commemorates Afro-Caribbean contributions to public service. The foundation will also be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush in the UK.
  • Praxis gives support and advice to vulnerable migrants.