On Windrush Day, we celebrate the generation of migrants who came over from the Commonwealth after the war to help rebuild Britain. After the war, tens of thousands of men, women and children travelled from across the Commonwealth to make their home here. When we talk about the Windrush Generation, we think of the Caribbean, but people came from all across the Commonwealth, from countries including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Hong Kong. They were nurses, doctors, railway workers, steelworkers, electricians, builders and farmworkers, and under the Nationality Act 1948, they were British citizens.
The 22nd of June marks the day when the Empire Windrush, carrying people from Kingston, Jamaica, landed at Tillbury Docks just outside of London. Lambeth has a particularly close relationship with the Windrush Generation as the first borough that many of these people settled in, spending their first night at Clapham South Deep Shelter, Brixton, visiting the local employment exchange in Brixton to find work, and eventually setting up home here.
It was lovely to spend some time with Corpus Christi College on Brixton Hill as they celebrated this local legacy with a very special musical Windrush Day celebration. At 10:27am, I joined them to sing Desmond Dekker’s famous song, ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want It’ to mark the 1027 passengers that arrived on the Empire Windrush 32 years ago today. I’m always impressed to see local schools making the extra effort to teach history in a way that reflects the full diversity of our country and community. I’ll continue to push the Government to follow their lead and ensure that Black history becomes a more integrated part of our curriculum.
It was also a privilege to join CARICOM Heads of Mission in Windrush Square at the Black Cultural Archives to pay a special tribute to the people who have done so much for our area. The Windrush Generation’s strong sense of community, faith and activism have helped make our area the incredible place it is to live today. Windrush Day is a time to celebrate their legacy but it is also a time to reflect on the injustices they faced and continue to face.
The compensation scheme is a scandal in itself
The Government’s compensation scheme has been criticised from all quarters for failing to get adequate financial restitution to the ageing victims of the Windrush Scandal. More than two years since the Government announced the scheme, the overwhelming majority of the scheme’s 2,367 applicants to date are still waiting for compensation. Earlier this year, the Government finally admitted that at least 21 people have died before hearing back on their application and at this rate, more will follow.
The current level of applications also suggests they have failed to reach many of the 11,500 people currently estimated to have been affected by the Windrush Scandal. And in spite of an overhaul to payouts, the average payment still does not seem adequate to the trauma endured by victims.
Leaving the Windrush compensation scheme in the hands of the unreformed institution that caused the scandal in the first place clearly has not worked. The highest-ranking Black civil servant involved in the scheme quit last year, accusing the Home Office of perpetuating the same problems that created the Windrush Scandal. When the scheme puts the onus on victims to prove what they’re claiming, much as it did with their immigration status, it’s clear that lessons haven’t been learned.
Following similar calls from community groups close to the scheme, Labour has this year called for the scheme to be taken out of the Home Office’s control.
We must never forget the Windrush Generation’s immense contribution to our society or how they stood strong in the face of the racism they faced under successive governments. Their struggles must spur us forwards to challenge the Tories’ divide and rule tactics and attempts to penalise migrants for the failings of their own rotten economic policies.