Windrush: a tragedy endures
Print News Editor Charlie Gershinson discusses the findings of the 2022 progress report on Home Office reformation following the 2018 Windrush scandal.
The Windrush generation, arriving from former colonies to the UK from 1948 to 1971, believed they had found a new beginning. Since the first voyage of the MV Empire Windrush from the Caribbean to the docks of Tilbury, the men, women, and children of the former Empire have helped form the backbone of modern Britain. Taking on all roles from manual workers to high office, such as Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy, those who arrived in Britain for a fresh start have helped to contribute to the vibrant, multicultural society in which we find ourselves today.
Given this, the Windrush scandal of 2018 was a particular betrayal. It was revealed at least 83 people had been deported from the UK to their country of birth, regardless of the life they had built for themselves here, all because these migrants were unable to show documentation demonstrating their citizenship, which was unnecessary before 1971.
Despite superficial changes, reports in recent years have laid bare the failures of government policy over Windrush and its continuing destructive legacy.
This has served as an uneasy reminder of British imperial legacy and how its aftershocks are still felt in the country to this day. The mistreatment and diminishment of this generation of migrants has continued for decades since 1973, but particularly since 2012. Despite superficial changes, such as the sacking of then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd, and former Prime Minister Theresa May’s apology for the debacle to Caribbean leaders in April 2018, reports in recent years have laid bare the failures of government policy over Windrush and its continuing destructive legacy.
To try and restore credibility in the Home Office’s leadership, the department set up a compensation scheme for those of the Windrush generation wrongly classified as illegal immigrants. However, this scheme has served as a damning administrative and policy failure. Since the scheme was launched, only one in four applicants have received compensation and only 7 per cent of the expected 15,000 applicants have received compensation.
Even for those who did receive compensation, such as Fitzroy Maynard, the amount they received was “insulting”. Maynard, despite living in England for most of his life, was unable to work or claim benefits from 2009-2018 as he was accused of being an illegal immigrant, rendering him homeless. Although he received a cumulative amount of £40,000, he believes this does not account for his “trauma” and that the Home Office “don’t want to take any of the blame – they want to put all the blame on you”.
This stunning display of dysfunction was laid bare in a 2021 Home Affairs Committee report which concluded that the scheme has “compounded the injustices” of the Windrush scandal. The report also recommended removing the implementation of the scheme from the Home Office, as it is inappropriate for the same office which created the scandal to run the compensation scheme. Independent organisations were recommended to run the scheme instead.
Another report into the Home Office further illustrates its toxic culture and unsuitability to deal with the fallout from its own scandal. The March 2022 report was written by Wendy Williams, an independent expert brought in in 2018 during the aftermath of the Windrush scandal. She found that the Home Office had broken its promises to transform its culture and become more compassionate. The report included thirteen expressions of disappointment in the Home Office. While Williams acknowledged some positive steps, such as an ambitious agenda to address the fallout from Windrush, she stated that she was “disappointed by the lack of tangible progress or drive to achieve the cultural changes required”.
Of the thirty recommendations made by Williams, only eight had been enacted by the time of the March progress report. Williams also criticized the exaggeration the Home Office has made about progress within their culture. She suggested that “much more progress is required in policymaking and casework” and she has seen “limited evidence that a compassionate approach is being embedded consistently across the department”.
Despite this dispiriting lack of progress amongst policymakers in the Home Office to ensure the mistakes that led to the Windrush scandal will never again be repeated, there have been more hopeful cultural changes within the community of Windrush migrants and their descendants.
Williams was particularly critical of the lack of progress on developing hostile workplace policies which helped cause the Windrush scandal in the first place. The lack of an appointed migrants’ commissioner has meant there is still no designated officer to “signpost systemic risks”. This is also a sign of a structural staffing issue at the Home Office: Williams found an insufficiently diverse Home Office leadership team which had “contributed to some of the errors in thinking which gave rise to the Windrush scandal itself” with little progress made in increasing the level of black, Asian and minority ethnic representation among senior leadership.
Despite this dispiriting lack of progress amongst policymakers in the Home Office to ensure the mistakes that led to the Windrush scandal will never again be repeated, there have been more hopeful cultural changes within the community of Windrush migrants and their descendants. As the celebration of Black History Month ends for another year, there has been a cultural shift in how the narratives of Windrush migrants, and other migrant communities, are approached. The founding of Windrush Day in 2018 has helped lead to increased attention being drawn to the history of those who represent the legacy of the Empire. This has only been developed with calls to decolonise the curriculum at high schools and higher education facilities, not least including the University of Exeter.