Windrush 75 years on: The government does a U-turn on promises following scandal

Windrush 75 years on: The government does a U-turn on promises following scandal
As the 75th anniversary of Windrush nears, Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s announcement that important recommendations from the review regarding the 2018 scandal will be scrapped, dishonours the legacy of those generations, writes Richard Sudan.
6 min read
04 Mar, 2023
A damaged pain of glass is pictured at the Tilbury Walkway of Memories, an artwork created by British artist Evewright from photographs of members of the Windrush Generation in Tilbury, east of London on February 13, 2023. [GETTY]

This year will mark the 75th anniversary of the Windrush landing, one of the first ships to bring Caribbean migrants to Britain’s shores.

The Empire Windrush was not the vessel to deliver West Indian migrants to the UK – that honour goes to the SS Ormonde in 1947 -  but Windrush is the one most well-known. It brought thousands of people like my grandfather to this country to put down roots.

Those who came to Britain to make a new home did so as citizens at the invitation of the British government to fill the depleted work force and labour shortage created by World War Two.

Broadly speaking, the Windrush generation refers to those who arrived from the Caribbean to Britain between 1948 and 1971. Those dates are when the Nationality Act was amended, first allowing migration from Caribbean Commonwealth countries before the door once more tightened.

''Home Secretary Suella Braverman admitted that three of the key recommendations made, will be scrapped. This includes establishing a new migrants’ commissioner as a bridge for communities seeking to access justice but who have lost confidence in the Home Office.''

Every year, many – including the government – applaud and herald the achievements of the Windrush generation, their children, and grandchildren, acknowledging the hugely positive impact they have made on the country. And last year, among the honours, we saw a special work of art unveiled at Waterloo Station commemorating the Windrush arrivals. The bronze sculpture depicts a newly arrived man, woman, and child full of energy for the road ahead with suitcases at their feet. It was created by one of Jamaica’s most revered artists, Basil Watson.

Whilst theie gestures are a fitting and fine tribute to those that walked the path before us, and should always be celebrated, we must be weary of opportunists. Especially given the 2018 Windrush scandal during which the very people championed through the statue were detained and deported, the honouring of this community deserves action from political leaders, not just photos at Windrush commemorations.

We need justice for those still caught up in the Windrush scandal nightmare, and demonstrable steps to be taken by our leaders in order to achieve it.

It’s often not popular to raise the scandal during Windrush celebrations because people prefer to remain ‘positive’ and focus on the contributions and rich culture and history of the communities who made the trip. But this should be something that we mustn’t ignore, and it is certainly not a dishonour to that generation.

The Hostile environment masterminded by Theresa May and implemented under David Cameron’s government remains firmly in place. That is the great disservice dealt to the Windrush communities. Instead of recognising the contributions made by people coming to UK shores from around the world, and changing policy for the better in order to decriminalise migration, address institutional racism and end far-right ideologies on our streets and in our press, things have steadily gotten worse.

Alongside the steady reinforcement of xenophobic and racist policies in Parliament, the government has the audacity to claim success with the handling of the Windrush scandal, despite having failed to make near enough progress. The compensation already paid out has been inadequate and slow.

This much was said by Wendy Williams last year when she published her review of the government’s progress in implementing the 30 recommendations made following her initial report in the immediate aftermath of the scandal.

In addition to this, Home Secretary Suella Braverman admitted that three of the key recommendations made, will be scrapped. This includes establishing a new migrants’ commissioner as a bridge for communities seeking to access justice but who have lost confidence in the Home Office.

Renowned poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who is also a second generation Windrush descendant, said that the government U-turn “is completely outrageous”. He added: “The government makes a promise and then the new Home Secretary says that she’s not going to respect that promise. When this scandal broke, this should have been a priority, and should have been top of the government’s list to fix right away.”

Zephaniah explained that he believes around 15,000 people put in claims to the government, and that “fewer than 7% have received compensation.”

“A lot of the people I know who have suffered in some way because of the Windrush Scandal are not even counted in those figures. The people who are seeking compensation are the people who are relatively brave. Some of the people that might want to claim are scared. They don’t trust that the government won’t do another U-turn, ” the writer added.

Zephaniah is right, there is an acute level of distrust and scepticism now towards the Home Office.

The reality is, that we don’t just have hostile environment policies which triggered the Windrush scandal firmly in place; we have an even more hostile government upholding them.

Things are moving backwards, not forwards. And as the government will no doubt continue to claim credit for having paid out millions in compensation, our collective energy should be focused on making sure that justice is truly delivered. Ultimately, that involved ensuring the protection of all black and marginalised communities.

No community is safe in post Brexit Britain amidst growing attacks on our rights and civil liberties. Deportations are set to continue, citizenship can be revoked at any time and without notice and the means to protest it all has been deeply damaged by recent legislation peddled by the Conservative government.

This means that the only available option we have is to double down and organise, hold the current government to account while pressuring the opposition – by any means necessary – to put forward a holistic agenda that meets the needs of the many. After all, our votes should not be taken for granted and need to be used as currency in a mutual exchange that can benefit us. Those who want power need constant reminding of this.

The best way to honour the Windrush generation is to produce justice for those affected by the scandal, but also by protecting other vulnerable communities from meeting a similar fate. As the saying goes: united we stand, divided we fall.

Just as the trade union movement has recently been reinvigorated, the fight for racial justice and equality must also follow suit.

Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.

Follow him on Twitter: @richardsudan

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.