Windrush cartoon

In 1948, those arriving on the Windrush to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War and fill the gaps in health and transport were subject to explicit crude and violent racism and this hostility was not limited to personal prejudices. (Chouhan and Nazroo, 2020)

Migrants arriving in the first wave of mass migration endured verbal and physical abuse both within and outside the workplace. White trade unionists resisted the employment of migrants and imposed a quota system. Within the NHS, concern that importing overseas workers was likely to create tensions was recognised in a 1949 Home Office memo: “It has been found that the susceptibilities of patients tended to set an upper limit on the proportion of coloured workers who could be employed either as nurses or domiciliaries.” (Jones, E. and Snow, S., 2011)

Britain’s schizophrenic approach to migrants wanting them to work where ‘natives’ wouldn’t or couldn’t, and not wanting so many living and working in Britain continues to this day.

“18,000 doctors were recruited from India and Pakistan. Enoch Powell praised these doctors, he said they ‘provide a useful and substantial reinforcement of the staffing of our hospitals and who are an advertisement to the world of British medicine and British hospitals.’” (Jones, E. and Snow, S., 2011)

Five years later Powell gave his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ speech, in which he not only proposed stopping immigration but further proposed that there should be re-emigration. The content and tone of the speech was overtly racist, referring to wide-grinning piccaninnies and Negroes as offensive and noisy, and White people as being strangers in their own country who were unable to get access to hospital beds. In contemporary Britain, at the same time as the NHS needs to recruit from overseas and ruing the staff shortages caused by Brexit and Covid-19, we are once again being presented with hypocritical arguments about ‘migrants’ being a drain on the NHS.  (Chouhan and Nazroo, 2020)

The Windrush Scandal exposed a systemic and deep-seated thoughtlessness on the issue of race.

The long-awaited review published in March 2020 confirmed that hundreds of were wrongly and unjustly told they were in Britain illegally, detained and deported. The Williams report says that this was a "profound institutional failure" turning people's lives upside down, even causing the deaths of many Caribbean people. 

Diane Abbott MP said: “For those affected, it isn't necessarily the money, the inconvenience or the tragedy of being deported, it is the insult to people who always believed they were British.” (Windrush scandal: Home Office showed 'ignorance' of race) These people had come in their thousands to help rebuild the motherland and its economy after the wars and beyond.

The author of the report  Wendy Williams stated that “race clearly played a part in what occurred”, adding that “some failings could be indicators of indirect discrimination and the factors identified demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation.”

After PM May's public apology and the mis-characterisation of so many detainees more than 12,000 people have been given documentation confirming they are living in the UK legally. Out of these only 60, however, have received compensation, totaling £360,000 from a fund that officials envisaged paying out well over £200m.

The fact that Britons have just finished paying the debt to slave owners in 2015 before considering giving reparations to the Windrush generation and their descendants which have been brutalised by the state is heinous.

As the NEU pays tribute to the people  of the Windrush generation and their descendants on the second annual Windrush day, marking 72 years since the arrival of the Empire Windrush –  we call for the full implementation of the Windrush review report recommendations to the Home Office and we are requesting that the recommendations are applied across all government departments. These include:

  1. the Home Office must acknowledge the wrong which has been done;
  2. it must open itself up to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and more extensive Home Office policy is about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in human dignity. 

Independent review by Wendy Williams

In Ms Williams review into Windrush, it is clear that officials should be actively educating themselves. “These failings clearly demonstrate deeply systemic issues of race and the history and the public's and officials' poor understanding of Britain's colonial history, the history of black Britons,” she said.

The Windrush generation deserves justice and reparations for the pain and suffering they have endured at the hands of a country who desperately needed their help.

Anthony Williams

One of the cases is that of Anthony Williams. Anthony made the journey from Jamaica to Birmingham in 1971 at the age of 7. He attended primary and secondary school before joining the army and serving with the Royal Artillery for 13 years. After having a successful second career as a fitness instructor until 2013, he suddenly found himself classified as an illegal immigrant and dismissed from his job. He spent five years destitute as the DWP had categorised him as an unlawful resident. He was not able to work or claim unemployment benefit having no money to heat his flat and spending most of the time in winter, keeping warm at the local library. To eat, he could only get 35p tins of sardines and pasta.

In 2018, when the Government apologised for mistakes made and promised compensation, the damage was already irreparable. Williams hoped he could start to rebuild his life and applied for compensation when the scheme was announced in April 2019.

In January he was told the matter would be resolved in a few weeks. Six months later, and still waiting, he is still living with the consequences of five years of fear, his physical and mental health battered and enforced unemployment in a flat that he cannot afford to furnish accurately.