The Windrush generation are a group of Caribbean migrants that arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1973 by boat. The Empire Windrush was the first boat to set sail and bring over the immigrants in 1948, therefore leading to the name of the Windrush Generation. They were brought over to help with labour shortages after the Second World War, and since the Caribbean was part of the British commonwealth at the time, everyone who arrived was automatically granted the ability to live and work in the UK permanently.
Many of the people that arrived from the Caribbean were targeted by the government after a new policy was announced in 2012. This policy enforced immigration control and focused on deporting people without documents stating they can live there legally. This policy did not take into account the fact that in the post-war period the Windrush generation were not required to have such documents.
As a result, many elderly people lost access to government services, were stopped from working and some were even evicted from their homes. This effectively meant that the British government was threatening to deport citizens who had lived in Britain for decades. Many of these people lost their homes, jobs and healthcare in the ensuing chaos. The scandal has led to a compensation scheme for those that have been affected by it, but until recently had been woeful in supporting those affected.
The Reality of the Policy
The Independent interviewed Albert Thompson, a man that has been affected by the Windrush scandal. Even though Albert had worked and paid taxes in the UK since his arrival as a teenager, he was still targeted by the new document policy. Albert arrived for his first radiotherapy session for prostate cancer, only to be refused treatment because he could not produce a British passport.
Not only was his healthcare denied but he was then evicted and left homeless for three weeks. Such horrific treatment would not be acceptable for illegal migrants let alone a long-term British citizen. Rewarding the Windrush generation, who helped to rebuild post-war Britain, with threats of deportation and eviction threw the British government into complete disrepute.
Another case from the scandal was that of Paulette Wilson who sadly passed away. Paulette left Jamaica at the age of ten to live in the UK and has not returned to Jamaica since. Despite this, the Home Office had sent her a letter informing her that after 50 years of living in the UK, she was an illegal immigrant and should make her way to Jamaica immediately. Paulette was also arrested twice and spent time in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre. Paulette spoke out and helped to break the scandal which led to the resignation of home secretary Amber Rudd.
Amber Rudd had claimed that the Home Office had no deportation targets, but less than 24 hours later admitted immigration officers did have a number of targets for deportation. Amber Rudd took full responsibility when resigning days later and admitted to ‘inadvertently misleading’ MPs. The current home secretary Priti Patel had apologised for the government’s actions that span decades and wants to right the wrongs and learn from the past. However, Priti Patel has been accused of ‘deeply insulting and patronising’ behaviour by the victims of the Windrush scandal and accused her of using their name to try to score political points.
Paulette spoke of her experience fighting to remain in Britain and said it was ‘the worst heartache anyone could go through’. The British government subjected many of the Windrush generation to horrific mental anguish and economic hardship just like Paulette. This was all because of an error on their part. Rather than looking internally to fix the system they continued to punish British citizens with threats of deportation and disenfranchisement.
The Compensation Scheme
The Windrush compensation scheme was launched in April 2019 and was designed to help financially compensate members of the Windrush generation and their families for the effects of the 2012 policy.
Claiming compensation however, was needlessly complex. The length of time and steps it took to make a claim and then receive compensation was ridiculous, with some claimants even passing away before receiving anything.
Awareness surrounding the value of the compensation was picking up and many thought that it was not sufficient enough compared to the losses and harm caused by the government. In December 2020 the Home Office department announced they would be making changes to the scheme which included an increase in payment for any case and an immediate payment as soon as there was proof of ‘impact on life.’
The National Audit Office states that the changes to the Windrush compensation scheme was designed to compensate claimants quickly. By the end of March 2021, the department had paid £14.3 million in compensation, of which £11.6 million had been paid since the changes were made in December 2020, making it an increase in payments of nearly 530%.
Despite her claims to help improve the lives of the people affected, Priti Patel and the Home office are failing to help the victims sufficiently. The compensation scheme is still too complex and difficult for people to claim, with only 412 of the 2,367 claims having received their final payment according to the Guardian.
Dame Meg Hillier, the cross-party committee’s chair, said ‘Let’s not lose sight of the scale of wrongs that the Home Office has promised to right here. People’s homes, families and livelihoods were interrupted and uprooted. Some have died without ever seeing justice or receiving the compensation they deserve. The Windrush compensation scheme is beset with the very same issues that led to the initial terrible mistakes.’
There are calls for the Home Office to be stripped of running the compensation scheme, since they have been unable to protect the victims in the first place and have since brought no justice to those that have been affected. The Home Office’s immigration policies have destroyed the lives of many black and minority ethnic British people and they have not offered sufficient help, empathy or respect to those victimised by their policies.
Awareness and Unity
In response to the scandal people are helping to spread the awareness of the Windrush generation. Patrick Vernon OBE has created The Every Generation Game: Windrush Edition to celebrate and commemorate the Windrush Generation.
The storytelling board game was designed to keep the stories and history of the Windrush generation alive and to help friends and family share their heritage and culture through the game. It is important that the story of the Windrush generation is kept alive despite the scandal. The scandal should be used for future reference to make sure other minorities are not treated in an unfair manner and that people are protected in Britain no matter their ethnicity. The board game also helps a great cause, with all profits donated to 100 great black Britons book to schools campaign.
With the compensation scheme open until 2nd April 2023, people may still be able to claim compensation if they have suffered from the Windrush scandal. Their suffering may include loss of employment, immigration fees, eviction, deteriorating health, refusal of education, detention or removal.
As a nation it is vital that we ensure that policies such as these never see the light of day. Preventing them from ever being implemented is the best way to keep communities such as the Windrush generation safe from persecution and discrimination.