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Guest blog by Windrush Lives, an advocacy group and support network led by victims of the Windrush scandal.
When the Second World War ended, Britain faced a labour shortage, including in critical sectors like construction, engineering and healthcare services. It suited the politicians of the day to invite migrants from Caribbean and African countries that had been part of the British empire to relocate to the ‘mother country’, where they could help rebuild damaged infrastructure and set in motion the process of economic recovery and expansion. The right of the first wave of migrants to full citizenship was confirmed in the British Nationality Act 1948, which created the status of ‘Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies’.
But, as the sustained post-war boom gave way to the first signs of economic instability, anti-migrant (anti-Black and brown, i.e. visible migrant) sentiment gathered pace. Commonwealth migration had become politically inexpedient, and the Immigration Act 1971 sought to put the brakes on its growth by ending the policy of full citizenship rights for new arrivals and imposing conditions for recognising the status of those who were already here.
From that point onwards, the rights of the ‘Windrush generation’ to emigrate and live in the UK have been steadily eroded, with devastating consequences. The ‘Windrush scandal’ is the series of events – orchestrated by Government – which culminated in at least 15,000 Black and brown citizens being told they did not have the right to remain, work and access welfare and public services in the UK. Windrush victims either arrived in that first wave of migration post-1945, or have parents who did. For most victims, the chain of events was triggered by the ‘hostile environment’ migration policy, which was explicitly designed to squeeze out migrants in pursuit of a political pledge to drastically reduce net migration. Employers, the Department of Work and Pensions and private landlords were deputised to act as immigration enforcement – you couldn’t work, rent from most places, or access benefits without documents proving your right to remain.
This was a problem, because that first wave of migrants didn’t need documents; most didn’t anticipate that the rules would change in such a fundamental and hostile way, having been invited in because this country needed them. People with parents and grandparents of the Windrush generation who didn’t particularly require a British passport – the concept of requiring a passport as an identity document is relatively recent in historical terms, and it was possible to live, be educated and work with just a driver’s licence or national insurance number for most of the 20th Century – were suddenly told they would be removed to countries they didn’t know, and in some places, hadn’t even visited.
The generational trauma that comes from living that precariously runs deep. The Windrush Compensation Scheme was posited as a means to “right the wrongs” committed – deliberately, in pursuit of political goals – by the Home Office. The Scheme opened in 2019; in the two years since, it has subjected victims to the same substantive process that led to their being told they didn’t have the right to remain – nonsensical demands for evidence, much of which is impossible to obtain precisely because of having been undocumented, or in some cases, because the Home Office destroyed landing cards proving date of arrival; rude, obstructive treatment; gaslighting, by asking the same questions over and over, with months of silence in between, when it has been made clear that a question cannot be answered in the way the caseworker would like. If a claimant makes it through all that, they are rewarded with a paltry offer, as if to apply the finishing touch to a portrait of degradation.
This is exactly what we should have expected: the same grotesque, systemically racist bureaucracy that selected Windrush migrants and their descendants for removal, for political ends. Black lives don’t matter to the Home Office.
A series of independent reports, including most recently by the Home Affairs Select Committee, have concluded that the Compensation Scheme should not be run by the Home Office. The report runs to 111 pages. The Home Office replied – the very afternoon it was published – that it wouldn’t turn over the scheme to an independent body. That is the decision of which we, together with Good Law Project, seek judicial review.
Time is against the Windrush generation. Most victims known to us are in their 60s and beyond, and decades of bureaucratic mistreatment have taken a toll on their health. They don’t have the time it will take to fundamentally change the Home Office.
That is a conversation for another time. For now, to fix the wrongs done to these living people, to apologise to them while it still has the chance, the Home Office must relinquish control of the Scheme.
By Ramya Jaidev from Windrush Lives
Windrush Lives is an advocacy group and support network led by victims of the Windrush scandal.
Read the pre-action protocol letter from Good Law Project and Windrush Lives to the Home Secretary.
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