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Home Office must give Windrush victims the respect and compensation they deserve

1948. Jamaican arrivals met by RAF officials | (Alamy)

4 min read

Picture this – you arrive home after a long day, put your feet up and open your local newspaper. You see a striking headline across the page – your “mother country” needs your help.

The Second World War has ended and they are offering jobs and work opportunities to people overseas, specifically to people like you. This isn’t just any country; it is one that has “historical ties” to your island. It is one that is purported to have streets paved with gold. 

Sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it? But most of us are aware that, for countless people, this story did not have a happy ending. Between 1948 and 1971, thousands of Black Britons (many of whom were from the ‘Windrush’ generation) arrived in the UK from the Caribbean. They were not met with open arms. 

It’s time for us to genuinely consider how the UK treats those who live and work here – who is and is not valued?

Despite being encouraged to move to Britain by the UK government to help with post-war labour shortages, Black Britons across the country experienced abhorrent racism. 

These racist acts were not limited to individuals on the ground – similar structural and racial barriers were reinforced at national level, too. In fact, the Home Office destroyed thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush migrants’ arrival dates in the UK, despite staff warnings that this would make it harder to check the records of older Caribbean-born residents experiencing housing and employment difficulties. 

Then in 2017, the ‘Windrush scandal’ emerged, when it became widely apparent that thousands of Black Britons from the Windrush generation had been wrongly detained, deported and denied legal rights.

Even though the Home Office said it was “committed to righting the wrongs of Windrush”, the government’s compensation scheme that was established to right these wrongs is still continuing to fail the very same generation. Research by Human Rights Watch shows that as of January 2023, only 12.8 per cent of the estimated 11,500 eligible claimants have been compensated. 

This lack of action, care and remedial support is genuinely shameful. That is why on Windrush Day 2023, Enact Equality (the racial justice organisation that I am proud to have founded) launched a new national campaign, and alongside a variety of renowned public figures, wrote to the UK Home Office to demand it takes action by committing to two important initiatives. 
Firstly, to establish and publish a clear ‘time limit target’ for handling Windrush compensation claims that are currently managed by the UK Home Office.

And second, to publish a reformed national strategy that includes steps to hand over the process to an independent body which understands the needs and experiences of communities affected by the scandal. 

Many parliamentarians joined together to co-sign our letter, including MPs Marsha de Cordova, Clive Lewis, Dawn Butler, and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, as well as Lord Woolley and others. The letter was also signed by a range of public figures and organisations, such as singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock from the internationally renowned band Little Mix, celebrity chef Levi Roots, the National Windrush Museum, and many more. 

Most of the political leaders and public figures who co-signed our letter are from Black Caribbean backgrounds. This is an issue that is extremely close to our hearts, and we are incredibly grateful for the support from our co-signatories. 

I think we can all agree that no community should be treated as disposable. It’s time for us to genuinely consider how the UK treats those who live and work here – who is and is not valued? Who is exploited? Who do we call on when there are labour shortages, or when we’re in times of need? The way that we treat one community is indicative of our country’s values as a whole. 

So let’s stand together to ensure the Windrush generation are not only celebrated on Windrush Day, but they also receive the compensation, respect and justice they truly deserve. 

 

L’myah Sherae, founder of the APPG for Race Equality in Education

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