This week, we celebrated the official 75th anniversary of the first Windrush arrivals in Britain. The docking of the HMT Empire Windrush on the June, 22 1948 ushered in an era during which tens of thousands of men, women, and children travelled from every corner of the Commonwealth to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War.
Our area has always had a special place in Windrush history. Many of those who made this first crossing were initially housed in deep-level shelters beneath Clapham South Tube station. Many more settled in and around Brixton, the site of the nearest labour exchange. They went on to become nurses, doctors, railway workers, steel workers, electricians, builders, farm workers and with many staying to build lives in our community.
As well as celebrating the Windrush Generation’s shaping influence on our country this week, we must reflect on the injustices they faced and continue to face – from the appalling racism they encountered when they arrived here to the state-sanctioned suffering inflicted by the Windrush scandal. In 2012, the coalition Government brought in new legislation that introduced immigration checks into the NHS, banks, workplaces and schools the infamous ‘Hostile Environment’. The idea was to drive down the number of people coming to Britain illegally. The effect was to make life impossible for members of the Windrush Generation with every right to be here, without any discernible effect on migration figures.
The Windrush scandal should have been a turning point, with an estimated 11,500 people impacted. Yet five years since the scandal came to light, Windrush survivors are still waiting for compensation. The logic of the Hostile Environment still dictates our immigration system, and just this week, the Government has rowed back on more key commitments made in the wake of the scandal.
What happened to the Windrush Generation is still being done and we must continue fighting for justice. It was wrong to put the Home Office that oversaw the scandal in charge of Windrush compensation without root and branch reform. The compensation scheme should be overhauled and made properly independent so that people are not denied the compensation they are entitled to. The recommendations made in Windrush Lessons Learned should be implemented in full. Above all, we must put an end to the cruel hostile environment policies which saw many Windrush survivors losing their rights, their jobs and their homes.
On this momentous anniversary, these reforms would be a fitting monument to a generation that has given so much.
This article was first published by the South London Press on the 23rd July 2023.