The Windrush Scandal: What Next?
By Tammy Naidoo
They came as British citizens at the invitation of the British government, but now, in 2018, those from the Windrush generation have been left frightened and uncertain of their future in the only country that many have ever thought of as home.
‘Windrush generation’ is a term used to describe those arriving in the UK from Commonwealth countries between 1948 and 1971, many of whom came over as children. The UK was facing a labour shortage owing to the destruction caused by World War II, so the government invited people from around the Commonwealth to come and help rebuild the country. The name Windrush is a reference to the name of the ship which brought the first 500 people from the Caribbean. The Windrush generation were given indefinite leave to remain by the 1971 Immigration Act. However, changes to immigration law in 2012 have left people fearful about their status.
In 2012, the government introduced the “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants and new legislation meant that everyone must have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare; documentation that many of the Windrush citizens do not have.
The situation is further complicated, as the Home Office did not issue any paperwork or keep a record of those granted leave to remain. They also destroyed the main evidence available – landing cards belonging to Windrush immigrants – in 2010. This has made it almost impossible for some of those who moved from Commonwealth countries between the 1940s and 70s to prove they are in the UK legally.
The media began to gain an awareness of this crisis in late 2017.The Guardian have carried out extensive work to expose the truth around this scandal over the last six months, revealing numerous cases of citizens who have been treated unfairly despite living here for the majority of their lives. In November 2017, The Guardian published an interview with Paulette Wilson, who was being threatened with deportation to Jamaica despite having lived in the UK for more than 50 years, as well as several other Windrush citizens being treated cruelly by the government. These include Renford McIntyre, a former NHS driver, who was made homeless after being told he was not eligible to work or receive government support, and a man with prostate cancer who was evicted from his home and denied treatment on the NHS, despite having lived in the UK for 44 years.
In early 2018 David Lammy MP, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on race and community, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister signed by over 140 MPs. The letter presses the government to find an “effective, humane route” to resolve an immigration anomaly that has caused “undue stress, anxiety and suffering” to many.
Lammy has been actively vocal in his opposition to the “hostile environment” that has been created for immigrants. He has been avidly campaigning for many months for fair treatment for the Windrush generation and holding the government to account. Lammy said: “The Prime Minister must act urgently to right this historic wrong. The government is essentially stripping people of the rights that our government itself gave them decades ago. These individuals have done nothing wrong and there is no basis upon which the Home Office can justify what they are doing.”
One of the big questions surrounding this scandal is how something like this can happen in the first place. It has been explained by the government as a regretful oversight, however the way in which these well-established citizens have been treated cannot be simply explained away as an accident.
Indeed, Sadiq Khan has accused Theresa May of trying to portray the crisis as a one-off, and has rebuked the message being given by the government that this scandal is just an anomaly. Khan instead argues that the scandal is, in fact, a direct consequence of the increasingly hostile way in which the UK government has been treating all immigrants on the back of target driven objectives created by May during her time as Home Secretary.
This has been reiterated by David Lammy MP: “The Prime Minister must take responsibility and acknowledge that this crisis is a direct result of the hostile environment policy that she implemented at the Home Office.”
Downing Street have argued that the strategy was intended to target illegal immigrants alone. However, targets for the removal of illegal immigrants do not just impact on illegal immigrants, but all immigrants, or those perceived to be immigrants, who are subject to increased regulation in many aspects of their lives – people must prove their immigration status when renting a property, opening a bank account or accessing the health service.
This has created a difficult and unwelcoming environment for all immigrants and the children and grandchildren of immigrants and fuels public distrust of those from other countries. Until now, the government has shown little regard for those unfairly caught up in this target culture, as ‘being tough on immigration’ is seen as a vote winner for the Tories.
It has since come to light that the Home office have been aware of the problems faced by the Windrush generation since 2016. Phillip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary at the time, was alerted to the issues by the Barbados government and a report was passed on to the Home Office, then led by Theresa May. What happened after this report was received, however, is unclear.
Amber Rudd confessed that she had known about the problem for months, and regrets that she didn’t see it as more than individual cases that had gone wrong. She apologised for the “appalling” way the Windrush generation had been treated and told MPs the Home Office had, “become too concerned with policy and strategy – and (lost) sight of the individual”.
In order to mitigate against this, Rudd announced the creation of a new team tasked with helping long-term UK residents, born in the Commonwealth, prove they are entitled to stay, with an aim to resolve cases within two weeks of evidence being provided. They have also waived the citizenship fee for members of the Windrush generation and their families, and promised compensation for those who have suffered as a result.
Theresa May has apologised to the heads of Caribbean governments for the treatment of Windrush citizens and has made a promise that no one will be deported. She insists the government was not “clamping down” on Commonwealth citizens, particularly those from the Caribbean.
After speaking up against several calls for her resignation, Rudd has now resigned from her position as Home Secretary. Sajid Javid has taken her place. His appointment is a landmark: he is the first politician from a minority ethnic background to take on the role. As the child of immigrants from the Windrush generation, he has claimed his most urgent task to be getting to grips with the crisis and ensuring those affected “are all treated with the decency and the fairness they deserve”.
Whilst these words seemed promising, the government have recently voted not to disclose any information related to the Windrush scandal, including numbers of those deported or detained. This lack of willingness to be transparent with the public has led to doubts about the government’s best intentions of those suffering at the heart of the scandal.
There are also still some hefty question marks hanging in the air. Where does the crisis go from here? There are many angry Windrush victims, and many unanswered questions for the Home Office’s difficulties to be over. There is unease about the help being offered and uncertainty about how officials are going to meet their commitment to resolving all cases within two weeks of evidence being lodged.
There are also concerns around how compensation will be calculated. One woman said she would need to be repaid for three years’ lost earnings in a middle management job, totalling more than £60,000. How do you calculate compensation for the hours sat waiting to talk to someone in the Home Office? One victim said “I couldn’t visit my mother when she was dying in Barbados. How do you calculate that in money? I don’t even know where my mum is buried.”
The toll on the Windrush generation is difficult to put a price on, and no amount of money will compensate for the ill-feeling generated by misguided government policies. As Satbir Singh, the CEO of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants put so clearly; although these improvements are welcomed “…on its own is not enough: the Home Office must commit to a system which treats affected people with fairness, humanity and flexibility…This is the first time that the government has been forced to account for these deliberate decisions. We hope it marks the start of a conversation about how we treat all those who seek to make a life here.”
EqualiTeach delivers workshops for young people on issues of immigration, racism and active citizenship. EqualiTeach also provides staff training on creating inclusive schools. For more information about our workshops and training, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The Guardian: The children of Windrush: ‘I’m here legally, but they’re asking me to prove I’m British’ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/15/why-the-children-of-windrush-demand-an-immigration-amnesty
The Guardian: MPs urge May to resolve immigration status of Windrush children
The Guardian: Windrush scandal directly linked to Conservation immigration policy, says Sadiq Khan
The Guardian: The Observer view on Theresa May’s hateful ‘hostile environment’ immigration policy
I News: David Lammy’s 10 urgent questions for the Government over Windrush scandal – in full
The Guardian: The week that took Windrush from low-profile investigation to national scandal
BBC News: Amber Rudd: Windrush generation treatment ‘appalling’
The Guardian: Theresa May apologises for treatment of Windrush citizens
BBC News Twitter: Sajid Javid
The Guardian: Amber Rudd’s 10 days of contrition for Windrush scandal
The Guardian: Amber Rudd ‘sorry’ for appalling treatment of Windrush-era citizens