What is the Windrush scandal?
The Windrush scandal mainly affected UK citizens originally from the Caribbean. It came to light in 2018 after it emerged that hundreds of Commonwealth citizens, many of whom were from the Windrush Generation, had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.
Who are the Windrush generation?
The Windrush Generation are people who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973. They were encouraged to come due to Britain’s post-war labour shortage. Many took jobs in the recently formed National Health Service (NHS), the railways and construction.
The name Windrush comes from the ship, Empire Windrush which brought one of the first large group of settlers from the Caribbean to the UK in 1948. The Caribbean was part of the British Commonwealth at that time so those who arrived were automatically British subjects and free to permanently live and work in the UK.
Migration from Commonwealth countries eventually slowed with the introduction of the Immigration Act 1971. The Act confirmed that those people who were already present and settled in the UK when the Act came into force on 1 January 1973—i.e., those without any restriction on their leave—were entitled to stay indefinitely in the UK. It also recognised the right of wives and children to join them, a right which was retained until the Immigration Act 1988.
In 2012, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, the Hostile Environment policy came into place under Theresa May as Home Secretary. The policy was designed to deter irregular migrants from settling in the UK and to make life as difficult as possible for immigrants living in the UK without leave to remain, hoping that they would leave voluntarily.
Under the policy the NHS, landlords, banks, employers and many others were tasked with demanding evidence of people’s citizenship or migration status and enforcing immigration controls. Despite warnings that the new policy would have a discriminatory impact on the Windrush Generation, the policy was rolled out.
Policy affects on the Windrush Generation
An estimated 500,000 people living in the UK make up the surviving members of the Windrush Generation. They were granted indefinite leave to remain in 1971, but thousands were children who had travelled on their parents’ passports. The hostile environment immigration policies demanded proof of documentation but, many were unable to prove they had the right to live in the country as they were not formally naturalised and had never applied for passports as adults.
From 2013, people of the Windrush Generation started to receive letters claiming that they had no right to be in the UK. Before long, some of them were being treated as ‘illegal immigrants’ and started to lose their jobs, homes, benefits and access to the NHS. Some were placed in immigration detention, deported, or were refused the right to return from abroad.
Victims of the Windrush Scandal
Some of the most alarming cases included a woman who had been living in Britain for five decades and was thrown into a detention centre and a man who had worked and paid taxes for more than 30 years and was charged £54,000 for cancer treatment.
One man, Richard Black, who was born in St Lucia and came to England when he was six, was left stranded in Trinidad and Tobago after a holiday in 1983, aged 29. His passport expired during his trip and could not be renewed. He has spent 38 years in exile. There are many more victims with disturbing stories.
It was reported that in 2010, the Home Office destroyed an archive of landing cards documenting Windrush era arrivals. This has made it almost impossible for many people, to prove they had the right to be in the UK. Despite Teresa May’s attempts to play down the importance of these landing cards, Home Office whistleblowers admitted that they routinely used landing card information as part of their decision-making process, and saw the Windrush landing cards as a useful resource.
In 2020, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) concluded that the Home Office unlawfully ignored warnings that changes to immigration rules would create serious injustices for the Windrush generation. Furthermore, the Home Office had failed in its legal duty to counter racial discrimination when it implemented its anti-immigration hostile environment programme.
Windrush Compensation Scheme
In April 2019 the Home Office launched the Windrush Compensation Scheme to compensate members of the Windrush generation and their families for the losses and impacts they have suffered as a result of not being able to demonstrate their lawful immigration status.
So far twenty-one people have died before being compensated and a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) states that many victims of the scandal continue to face long waits in receiving compensation.