Windrush generation: Who are they and why are they facing problems?

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Media caption,

A look back at life when the Windrush generation arrived in the UK

A scheme to compensate victims of the Windrush scandal has been strongly criticised by MPs.

The Home Affairs Committee says that the vast majority of those affected have yet to receive any compensation for being wrongly classed as illegal immigrants and threatened with deportation.

What was the Windrush scandal?

Despite living and working in the UK for decades, many were told they were there illegally because of a lack of official paperwork.

Who are the Windrush generation?

Image source, PA

People arriving in the UK between 1948 and 1971 from Caribbean countries have been labelled the Windrush generation.

It refers to the ship MV Empire Windrush, which docked in Tilbury on 22 June 1948, bringing workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands, to help fill post-war UK labour shortages.

The ship carried 492 passengers - many of them children.

It is unclear how many people belong to the Windrush generation, but they are thought to be in their thousands.

They are among more than 500,000 UK residents who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971, according to University of Oxford estimates.

The influx ended with the 1971 Immigration Act, when Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain.

After this, a British passport holder born overseas could only settle in the UK with both a work permit and proof of a parent or grandparent being born in the UK.

Where are they now?

Many of the arrivals became manual workers, cleaners, drivers and nurses - and some broke new ground in representing black Britons in society.

Jamaican-British campaigner Sam Beaver King, who died in 2016 aged 90, arrived at Tilbury in his 20s and became a postman.

Media caption,

What was life like for first-generation Windrush migrants?

Later he was the first black Mayor of Southwark in London.

Labour MP David Lammy, whose parents arrived in the UK from Guyana, describes himself as a "proud son of the Windrush".

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Are they here legally?

The Home Office kept no record of those granted leave to remain and issued no paperwork - making it difficult for Windrush arrivals to prove their legal status.

In 2010, it destroyed landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants.

Because they came from British colonies that were not independent, they believed they were British citizens.

What were they facing?

Media caption,

"My whole life sunk down to my feet" - Windrush migrant Michael Braithwaite

Those who lacked documents were told they needed evidence to continue working, get NHS treatment, or even to remain in the UK.

Changes to immigration law by successive governments left people fearful about their status.

A review of historical cases found that at least 83 individuals who had arrived before 1973 had been removed from the country.

What did the government do?

Media caption,

Theresa May's Windrush apology to Caribbean leaders

In April 2018, then-prime minister Theresa May apologised for their treatment. An inquiry was announced and a compensation scheme established.

The inquiry, which released its report in March 2020, said that the scandal was "foreseeable and avoidable". It criticised "a culture of disbelief and carelessness" in the Home Office.

The inquiry made 30 recommendations including :

  • setting up a full Home Office review of the UK's "hostile environment" immigration policy
  • appointing a migrants commissioner
  • establishing a race advisory board

The inquiry report author, Wendy Williams, warned there was a "grave risk" of similar problems happening again if the government failed to act.

The government accepted the recommendations in full and began working on a plan to implement them.

What happened about compensation?

The Windrush Compensation Scheme was established in April 2019. About 15,000 people were thought to be eligible.

However, the Home Affairs Committee - a cross-party body of MPs which examines immigration and security - says that by the end of September 2021, only a fifth of these had come forward, and only a quarter had received compensation.

More than 20 individuals died before receiving any money.

The MPs argue that the compensation scheme has itself become a further trauma for those applying, with a "litany of flaws" in its design and operation.

Their report highlights excessive burdens on claimants, inadequate staffing and long delays - and says many of those affected "are still too fearful of the Home Office to apply."

They want an independent organisation to take over responsibility for the scheme, to "increase trust and encourage more applicants".

Media caption,

Johnny Samuels: "Priti Patel, Boris Johnson, do something"

Campaigners have also criticised the size of the payments being handed out.

For example, an individual would receive £10,000 for being deported, or £500 for denial of access to higher education. Individuals would receive £250 for every month of homelessness.

The government has said that the flat payment for deportation of £10,000 would also be combined with other payments such as loss of earnings. It adds that, including other schemes in place, more than £1m has been handed out to victims.

Responding to the Home Affairs Committee's report, the Home Office said the department was "steadfast in our commitment to ensure that members of the Windrush generation receive every penny of compensation that they are entitled to".

It said that it would continue to improve the scheme.

How is the Windrush celebrated?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Windrush was recreated during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games

Events are held annually to commemorate the Windrush's arrival, and the subsequent wave of immigration from Caribbean countries.

Windrush Day is commemorated on 22 June - the first being observed in 2018. The lead-up to the event is marked with exhibitions, church services and cultural events.

A model of the MV Empire Windrush, featured in the London 2012 Olympics' opening ceremony, while in 2019, the National Theatre put on a production of Andrea Levy's Small Island, a story of first-generation Jamaican immigrants.

In June 2020, the BBC broadcast a feature-length drama inspired by the Windrush scandal.