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ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH THE WINDRUSH GENERATION IN BRITAIN


Presented to the Windrush Community events in Colwyn Bay, organised for NWAMI by Dr Sibani Roy, on 22nd/23rd June 2019     by Dr Jim Thakoordin

Section 1. Introduction

1.   Origins of the Windrush Scandal and the British Empire

Britain is a nation of immigrants. Almost everyone can trace their ancestors back to another country outside Britain. As a nation Britain has always felt unease about immigration coming to this country. The make-up of the British population changes substantially in recent centuries due to wars, colonialism, imperialism, world trade and the growth of the British Empire in terms of Black and Asian people entering Britain

If we go far enough back into history, we could argue that everyone who lives in Britain today had his or her origins elsewhere.  From the Bronze Age to the Neolithic migrants who travelled to North West Europe 40,000 years ago, to the various armies including the Romans, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans, to the waves of immigrants and refugees from France, Ireland, Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean; the fact is that most people in Britain today are either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. To look critically and objectively on the problems associated with the Windrush Generation (WG) one must go back to the historical events within the British Empire and its legacy stemming from Colonialism, the Trans-Atlantic Triangular Trade including the Slave Trade which Britain entered in the16th century. Please see Note 1.

Africa was conquered and colonised and enslaved by many European countries for centuries since the 15th and 19th centuries and it was in the interests of the Europeans to justify the cruel, barbaric and enslavement of millions of Africans and mass transportation of slaves in inhuman conditions to work on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas. The WG are descendants of the African slaves and Indentured labourers transported from Asia to the Caribbean and South America.

Race and racism as well as institutional and structural racism; unequal treatment; exploitation and the stereotyping of Black, Asian,, Ethnic Minorities and non-white people commonly referred to as BAEM and from her on referred to as Black has been apparent at least since the time Christopher Columbus set out on his voyage from Europe to discover new lands in 1492.

For the Europeans Africa was the Dark Continent. Along with Africa, China India and other parts of the British Empire and colonies occupied by other European powers, these colonies had no history, no substantial civilisation and made to real contributions to humankind. This is of course exactly the opposite. Africa, China, India and nations in the Middle East were ahead of Europe in almost every area of human development in all aspects of life, work, trade, medicine, education, agriculture, arts, crafts, politics and businesses for thousands of years before Europe’s colonial and imperialist conquests which started substantially in the 12th Century.

Europe learned from the great civilisations and empires of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere where non-white people were in control.  Another myth amongst Europeans is that Europeans discovered Africa, the truth is that Africa is recognised as the birthplace of modern human beings and over many decades had travelled, traded and settle in continents across the globe. Africans in fact discovered Europe, Asia and other continents before the Europeans claimed to have discovered Africa.

Throughout the history of British colonialism and exploitation of the colonies Black people were stereotyped as inferior to white people and racism was used to justify this inferiority. Africans and Caribbeans who entered Britain as either slaves, workers or free people since the 16th century had to endure racism manifested in disproportionate levels of violence, inequality, poverty, access to resources and poor quality of life.

There is a link between the British Empire, colonialism and the arrival of Black people in Britain and the WG is a chain in this link. Despite the sufferings of the WG and their ancestors who were taken and transported from Africa and continued to produce slaves for their masters in the Americas and Caribbean several Black people have excelled and been recognised as exceptional and successful in medicine, distinguished military personnel.

The story of the WG is not all about suffering, inequality and exploitation. It is also about success, achievements, and making substantial contributions to every area of life and industry in Britain. Their contributions have made significant differences to every area of life, activities and structures in Britain.

 

Section 2

Important structural, institutional and legal failures faced by the Windrush Generation 

The term Windrush Generation refers to the approximately 500 men and women who came to Britain on the SS Windrush ship that sailed from the Caribbean to Britain on 22nd June 1948 and the generation who followed them and their offspring.

Despite the many criticisms of Britain being a class  driven society; a society characterised by inequality; racial tensions; substantial poverty and unequal access for all to essential and reasonable resources, Britain is recognise as one of most advanced, tolerant, progressive, and a place for opportunities and advancement in the world.

Britain is a relatively wealthy capitalist country with deep historical traditions, values, institutions, structures and respect for the rule of law and justice. Rights, freedom of expression and fairness are valued and appreciated by most of the population. However, despite all these elements, beliefs and values, and the infrastructure of laws, and enforcement mechanisms to defend and sustain these principles Britain is to a large extent a divided, unequal, unfair, unjust and hierarchical nation.

The many laws and the legal framework including the political institutions, the legal system the judiciary, the legislative and the executive process that constitutes the framework of governance and the protection of freedom equality and justice for all has been severely criticised in recent decades for supporting the interests of the minority with the wealth and not the majority with much  less or no wealth. It has been acknowledged by Parliamentarians, the Judiciary and many branches of the Executive that Britain is an institutionally and structuralist a racist and sexist society deeply rooted in class wealth, power and authority. Black people in Britain with a few exceptions have always been over-represented in the underclass, under-privileged and under-represented in the power structure, poverty, poor health, areas of influence and living and working on the margins. It is widely recognised that racism within the structures, the institutions and the implementation and enforcement of the many laws, practices and procedures across the nation.

The following acts have enabled some progress in relation to democratic values, human rights, equality and fairness, justice access to resources, and respect for each other. However, Black and working class and poor people have not benefitted as much as expected from these changes which includes the:

1962 Immigration Act

The various Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968. 1976 and 2000

1971 Immigration Act

Human Rights Act 1988

The European Convention of Human Rights Act

The Equality Act 2006 and 2010

Immigration Acts 1998 and 2014

The International human rights instruments signed and ratified by the UK include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

·      United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

·      UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

·      Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

·      International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination

·       International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Convention against Torture.

 

These acts along with other economic, welfare, employment, welfare, health, local government and public services reforms have failed to address the expectations and fairness associated with the need to ensure that everyone benefits equally and fairly. Several recent Reports by the Government and Public Bodies and Institutions have demonstrated that the position of most working people has hardly changed in terms of catching up with the average white person. In fact, in some areas, the position of Black people in economic, social and political terms has worsen. (See TUC Reports, Government Report on Fairness in Britain, the …… )

 

Section 3

How the Windrush generation continued to help rebuild Britain since 1945 and across the public and private sectors

People from the colonies have been involved in the building of Britain and the British Empire since the 16th century and throughout the centuries of colonialism, imperialism slavery, indentureship and enslavement. The enormous wealth from the Empire largely financed the British Industrial Revolution and the expansion of the role, power, status and economy of Britain for centuries. The Windrush generation are the direct descendants of the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade from the 15th century right up towards the mid- 20th century and after the abolition of slavery in the British colonies in 1834 and until the colonies became independent starting from the independence of India in 1947.  

 

After the second World War Britain was desperate for labour to rebuild its shattered economy. Britain turned to the colonies for address the labour shortage. People from the Caribbean answered the call by what they regard as there “mother country” that ruled them for centuries. The labour shortages was made worse by the fall in the  total working population by 1.38 million between the end of the War in 1945 and the end of 1946, as many married women and older workers who had delayed retirement or career progression left or changed their jobs they had filled during the war. Many people also left Britain during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s to settle in Australia, Canada, New Zeeland and Africa for a better life. Not surprising the British government turned to the Caribbean and other former colonies for replacement labour in a rapidly growing, complex and technologically based economy.

The arrival of BAEM workers from the colonies and ex-colonies (the New Commonwealth) began slowly during the War and increased with the arrival of the Windrush in 1948 and other ships as well as aircrafts.  At first between 1,000 and 2,000 people entered Britain each year, followed by a steady and rapid rise until 1957, when 42,000 migrants from the New Commonwealth, entered Britain, mainly from the Caribbean. Between 1958 and 1959 the numbers declined by almost a half,  but by 1960 had increased again to 58,000, and then in 1961 it more than doubled, due to the resentment against BAEM immigrants and the anticipation of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act that was designed to restrict the automatic right of entry to Britain by people from the Commonwealth that was made possible by the 1948 Immigration Act. The widespread resentment against BAEM immigrants gained momentum within the media and in some political parties, racist and fascist groups, even though according to the 1961 national population census, the number of people living in England and Wales who were born in the Caribbean was just over 161,000: 90,000 men and just over 71,000

The WG along with other Black immigrants and their offspring were not only recruited to work in the public services but were vital to the private sector working in manufacturing and taking up the jobs that were vacant because many white workers abandoned for better jobs with more pay, better conditions and improved social status. Black workers were over-represented in low paid, shift work, and working unsocial workers in often lower grades. Despite vast improvements, a large number of second and third generation workers from the Windrush are still experiencing discrimination in employment, training, promotion, pay, pensions, job security and rights at work due to racism and racial discrimination even though many are as qualified as the white workers who are often more sought after. There are about 9 million Black people in Britain today representing some 13 per cent of the workforce and increasing at a much higher rate than the white population

The Windrush generation played a major role in the development and sustainability of the NHS

 

The SS Windrush arrived in Tilbury Docks in London on 22nd June 1948, just 13 days before the birth of our precious National Health Service (NHS), on 5th July 1948. the NHS

 

Almost all passengers on the Windrush were from the Caribbean, mainly Jamaica, which was a British colony for centuries. Many of the passengers respond to the call by the British government for workers to rebuild a Britain devastated by the Second World War 1939-1945. Since their arrival from the Caribbean in 1948, the Windrush generation and their offspring as well as new arrivals from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia has made a significant contribution not only to the NHS, but across every economic, political, social, cultural and structural aspects of Britain that has made the economy the 5th largest in the world. Immigrants from the colonies were invited to Britain to overcome the serious labour shortages in the public services especially in the NHS, transport and manufacturing sectors. Many of the migrants from the Windrush era took up the invitation to work in the NHS and for the last 71 years have helped to shape the NHS that so many of us love, cherish and regard as our greatest national asset.

 

The Windrush generation is vitally important to the functioning sustainability and development of the NHS. Those from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds make up a fifth of the total NHS workforce and even more in certain urban areas of Britain. They are represented in every manual and professional areas of the NHS, particularly within medical, nursing and caring roles. The NHS has been strengthened by the healthy diversity, inclusiveness and opportunities available to everyone within Britain by the immigrants and their subsequent generations who choose to work in the NHS and across our public services. People from Britain’s ex-colonies are still sought after by the NHS to fill the large number of vacancies within the NHS in 2019 and likely to continue after Britain’s exit from the European Union as a result of Brexit. The number of Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAEM) staff exceeds 20 per cent of the NHS workforce and rising. 

 

 

 

Section 4

Britain’s Immigration policy

Britain having encouraged immigration from the Commonwealth and enabled easy access to people from the colonies and ex-colonies to travel to and settled in Britain decided to implement the 1962 Immigration Act and other Acts designed to restrict immigration, which removed the right of entry to people from the colonies and ex-colonies. This was due to the public resentment to foreign workers who were Black. However, the Act restricted the number coming to Britain as unskilled and lower skilled workers but kept open access to employment and students with specific skills and opportunities to work. For many years successive governments committed themselves to severely restrict non-European Union immigrants but failed to meet their targets or estimates. Britain moved away from relying on Commonwealth immigrants and took advantage of the flow of immigrants from the European Union as citizens of the EU can live and work in any EU country. The number of EU immigrants grew as well as BAME students and professional workers to meet skills shortages and the need for a rising workforce in Britain. By the year 2000 resentment against immigration from both commonwealth and EU countries surfaced again and the Conservative Party accused the Labour Government in power from 1997 to 2010 of allowing too many immigrants into Britain. The Conservative Government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats came to power in 2010 and committed Britain to reducing immigration substantially. Theresa May became Home Secretary and was in charge of Immigration issues from 2010 to 2017 she struggled to reduce net migration despite seeking to implement a “hostile policy” towards what she regarded as illegal immigrants as defined by the 2014 Immigration Act which she and her government designed and was approved by Parliament.

The 2014 Immigration Act made life difficult for people in Britain who did not have written proof that enabled them to stay in Britain and to reduce illegal immigrants in Britain and refugees, and asylum seekers who failed to secure citizenship or the right to stay in Britain. The Act also imposed conditions on landlords, employers and provider of public services to exclude people who could not supply factual evidence of their right to live and work in Britain. So the people from the Windrush Generation that includes the Caribbean and certain other Commonwealth countries who arrived in Britain before 1st January 1973 and unable to provide proof of identity and the right to remain in Britain were deemed to be illegal immigrants and subjected to Mrs May’s 2014 Immigration Act which created a “hostile environment” for them in Britain. Mrs May became Prime Minister after the Prime Minister David Cameron resigned in 2015 following the nation’s decision to vote for Britain to leave the EU as part of a referendum. The Conservative Government struggled with Brexit and failed after 4 years to leave the EU in March. Many people voted for BREXIT so Britain can have full control of its borders and immigration to Britain. Mrs May government became increasing isolated and failed in its attempts to secure a Parliamentary majority to successfully implement Brexit implement Brexit and she decided to resign as Leader of the Conservative Party and as Prime Minister in July 2019.

 

 

 

 

Section 5

Mrs May “hostile environment policy” and the implications for the Windrush Generation

Mrs May was not the first senior British politician to create a hostile environment for Caribbeans living legally or illegally in this country. Previous generations who entered Britain before during and after the first and second World War as part of the allied forces fighting against fascism in Europe, or as civilians support the war efforts were also encouraged to return home or face living in a hostile environment. Many of the WG people who travelled on the SS Windrush were ex-service personnel or offspring of Caribbeans who had fought for Britain in the First War 1914-18.   

According to BBC News on 17th October 2017 the number of hate crimes in England and Wales reported by the Home Office has increased by 29per cent. There were 80,393 offences in 2016-17, compared with 62,518 in 2015-16 - the largest increase since the Home Office began recording figures in 2011-12. In 2016-17: 62,685 (78%) were race hate crimes, 9,157 (11%) were sexual orientation hate crimes, 5,949 (7%) were religious hate crimes, 5,558 (7%) were disability hate crimes and 1,248 (2%) were transgender hate crimes. Some of this increase were probably due to the BREXIT debates, Islamophobia and terror attacks.

The “hostile environment policy” towards illegal immigrants was first mention in 2009 during the Labour government, but put into practice with Mrs May as Home Secretary when the Conservative and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government and Mrs May was in charge of the Home Office and committed to implementing her Party’s Manifesto to reduce net immigration to the UK to 100,000.  Theresa May hostile environment policy, came into effect in October 2010 and consisted of administrative and legislative measures to make staying in the United Kingdom as difficult as possible for people without "leave to remain", in the hope that they may "voluntarily leave" Britain. In 2012, Theresa May stated that "The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for illegal immigrants". The policy was widely seen as being part of a strategy of reducing UK immigration figures as promised to the levels identified in the 2010 Conservative Party Election Manifesto. 

Measures introduced by the policy include a legal requirement for landlords, employers, the NHS, charities, community interest companies and banks to carry out ID checks and to refuse services if the individual is unable to prove legal residence in the UK. Landlords, employers and others are liable to fines of up to £10,000 if they fail to comply with these measures. The Home Office also organised raids to workplaces and elsewhere searching for illegal immigrants who were either subjected to deportation or detention.

The Home Office sponsored vans touring London with large signs indicating so-called illegal immigrants to “Go Home”. In a debate in Parliament in October 2013 on the proposed 2014 Immigration Act designed and promoted by Mrs May she stated that she would “deport first and hear appeals later”.

The Home Office had set targets for the number of deportations each year and it was alleged that civil servants received bonuses for increasing the number of deportations  Theresa May who is responsible more than anyone for the Windrush crisis and scandal refused to accept responsibility for the problems caused to the WG by her Immigration even though she was warned about the serous possible consequences of the Act. Sadly, the Labour Members of Parliament supported the 2014 Act apart from 6 MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbot, Kelvin Hopkins, John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner and Fiona Mactaggart voted against it.

The Home Office having destroyed the landing documents in 2010 related to the WG arrival in the UK add enormous difficulties for tens of thousands of people from the WG to prove their right to remain in Britain. Mrs May attempted to blame the previous Labour Home Secretary for this, but later accepted that the landing records were destroyed under her time at the Home Office. One of Mrs May’s failure during her time as Home Secretary was related to her immigration policies and the links she made between legal immigrants and citizens, illegal immigrants and criminals associated with the Windrush generation and a number of other countries. Her successors who she appointed as Home Secretary, broadly followed her policies on immigration. Both Amber Rudd and Sajid Javid consistently shared her deeply held policies on immigration and together had supported all the policies on immigrations by the Conservative government since they have entered Parliament. Despite their apologies, condemnation of the treatment of the Windrush generation and sympathetic statements whilst they are still basically committed fundamentally to the same policies the Conservative Party and governments have followed since the 1962 Immigration Act.

Theresa May and her government has been widely criticised for the

The treatment of the Windrush generation. Also her successors Amber Rudd and Sajid who were appointed by Mrs May as Prime Minister have also faced serious criticisms for their actions including failure to act on promises they made to make life easier for the Windrush generation; to sort out their citizen status; enable them to travel without fear to and from Britain; resolving their problems associated with the lack of identity and proof of citizenship and enabling them to access, services, benefits, jobs and improve their quality of life; reducing their fears, resolving their status; and preventing them from living in enormous distress, anxiety, stress and uncertainty. The deportations, detentions and all the cruelty and inhumane treatment continues as they were when Theresa May was at the Home Office.

Section 6

Who are the Windrush Generation and how many are vulnerable regarding citizenship?

Black African and Caribbean have been regularly coming to Britain to live and work in sizeable numbers either in a forced or voluntary capacity since the 16th century. This number increased with the two World Wars in 1914-18 and 1939-1945, then a significant number arrived in the Windrush in 1948.

It is estimated that bbetween 1948 and 1971, more than half a million people moved from the Caribbean to Britain, mainly for economic reasons. They were encouraged by various British governments to come to the “mother country” in response to the labour and skills shortage. Many more arrived as students and skilled workers in the nearly five subsequent decades. These are the people who have been referred to in recent years as the “Windrush generation.

Most of the Windrush generation who arrived in Britain up to 1st January 1973 were adults with passports and other documents and have subsequently become British citizens, However, a sizeable number of working age adults and children travelled from the Caribbean to join parents or grandparents in the UK or travelled with their parents without their own passports and have never acquired a passport of their own before 1st January 1973 but found themselves in severe difficulty when seeking a passport, travelling abroad or returning from abroad after a period of time. As these people had a legal right to come to the UK, they neither needed nor were given any documents upon entry to the UK. The “Landing Cards” identifying many of the arrivals were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010. Which was the start of the Windrush scandal as some vital proof of identity and presence were no longer available. Those without the required evidence and proof were deemed to be illegal immigrants even though many were either born or lived in Britain for most of their lives and has assumed to be British.

The changes in immigration laws in the early 1970s. such as the 1971 Immigration Act and the the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, and that of 1968, restricts immigration, especially primary immigration into the UK. It introduced the concept of partiality or right of abode but failed to address the issues associated with the proof of identity associated with the Windrush generation. Many of the countries from which the immigrants had come became independent of the UK after 1948, and people living there became citizens of those countries. 

UK immigration laws in the 60s and early 70s limited the rights of citizens of these former colonies, now members of the Commonwealth, to come to or work in the UK. Anyone who had arrived in the UK from a Commonwealth country before 1st January 1973 was granted an automatic right permanently to remain, unless they left the UK for more than two years. Since the right was automatic, many people in this category were never given, or asked to provide, documentary evidence of their right to remain at the time or over the next forty years, during which, many continued to live and work in the UK, genuinely believing themselves to be British.

A clause in the 1999 Immigration Act specifically protected long-standing residents of the UK from Commonwealth countries from enforced removal, but this clause was not transferred to the 2014 immigration legislation because Commonwealth citizens living in the UK before 1 January 1973 were "adequately protected from removal", according to a Home office spokesperson and a report in the Guardian Newspaper on 16th April 2018. This decision by the Home Office in 2013 and the passing of the 2014 Immigration as well as the changes made in 2010 by the Home Office to make life difficult for “illegal immigrants” started the problems that created the Windrush scandal, which included deportation, imprisonment, detention, denial of public services, charges for NHS treatment, forcibly removal of people from Britain, loss of jobs, loss of housing and welfare benefits, rights to educational and essential opportunities, premature death and separation of families amongst other things that have created massive and inhumane suffering for many thousands of good decent, hardworking and law abiding people.

The Windrush scandal was deliberate, political, ideologically motivated and described by many people, organisations and institutions as well as the media as “institutional racism pure and simple” See article in the Guardian Newspaper 30th April 2018. Lord Kerslake who was head of the Civil Service when Mrs. May was Home Secretary described Theresa May’s anti-immigration policies as “reminiscent of Nazi Germany” Please see separate note on the many and varied response to Theresa May’s immigration policies during her time as Home Secretary. 

Jim Thakoordin 

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