The Windrush Generation
Updated: Aug 22
The Windrush Generation refers to a large number of African-Cari
bbean people who migrated to the UK after World War II, primarily to fill the gap in Britain’s depleted workforce. They were not only incentivised by their governments at home, bu
t the British Nationality Act 1948 also granted them British citizenship, due to being born in a British colony. The name stems from the ship Empire Windrush which brought over the first 8
00 migrants. From 1948-1971, around half a million people arrived from Commonwealth countries, with many filling essential public sector roles such as working for the NHS, or public transport.
The 1971 Immigration Act withdrew the automatic right to remain from Commonwealth citizens - new arrivals required a work permit, or an ancestral connection with Britain. However, it granted those already in the UK ‘indefinite leave to remain’. Since citiz
enship was automatic, these individuals were able to live freely in the UK, believing themselves to be British.
Decades later, the Hostile Environment Policy of 2012 was enforced in order to hinder the lives of illegal immigrants, in hopes that they would voluntarily leave. E
xamples of this policy in force included enormous fines for landlords and employers of these immigrants, cutting off their access to housing and a stable income. In addition, the Home Office hiked their own fees for processing ‘right to remain’ requests, and many were deterred from applying due to the sheer cost.
In 2017, reports began to emerge that individuals from Commonwealth territories who had arrived before 1973 were being targeted by the Home Office. The majority of them did not have documents proving their citizenship, since it had been granted to them automatically. The children of the Windrush Generation were also affected - many were faced with deportation unless they could produce documents proving that their parents had been living in the UK legally at the time of their birth. In some cases, the requests for documents were totally unreasonable - individuals were being asked to produce 4 documents for every year of their time in the UK.
It is difficult to imagine the distress caused to Windrush families during the 5 years between the implementation of the policy and the eventual media backlash. Theresa May, the Prime Minister at the time, admitted that it is not possible to enumerate exactly how many people were wrongly deported, but the number is certainly above 80. Imagine having lived in and worked for the public sector of a country your entire life, having dutifully paid your taxes and suddenly being told that you did not belong? This careless policy tore apart countless families, leaving several deeply in debt due to being unable to work. Others were evicted from their family homes and forced to pay extortionate sums for healthcare treatments that they had believed to be free.
Despite the Government's apology and the token resignation of the former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, justice has still not been served. There are in total 57,000 victims of this governmental failure, and just 60 have been served compensation, despite the Windrush Compensation Scheme being extended to 2023. This scheme was set to pay out £200m to those affected - just £360k has been paid since it's launch.
The Government acknowledged the Windrush review recommendations obtained from Wendy Williams’ independent investigation in March 2020, however no action has yet been taken to implement these.
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Written by Soumya Krishna Kumar for The Crisis Project