Who are the Windrush generation? 

The ‘Windrush’ generation are those who arrived in the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1973. Many took up jobs in the nascent NHS and other sectors affected by Britain’s post-war labour shortage. The name ‘Windrush’ derives from the ‘HMT Empire Windrush’ ship which brought one of the first large groups of Caribbean people to the UK in 1948. As the Caribbean was, at the time, a part of the British commonwealth, those who arrived were automatically British subjects and free to permanently live and work in the UK.  

What is the Windrush scandal?  

The Windrush scandal began to surface in 2017 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. Coverage of these individuals’ stories began to break in several newspapers, and Caribbean leaders took the issue up with then-prime minister, Theresa May. 

There was widespread shock and outrage at the fact that so many Black Britons had had their lives devastated by Britain’s deeply flawed and discriminatory immigration system

Why did the Windrush scandal happen?  

Commonwealth citizens were affected by the government’s ‘Hostile Environment’ legislation - a policy announced in 2012 which tasked the NHS, landlords, banks, employers and many others with enforcing immigration controls. It aimed to make the UK unlivable for undocumented migrants and ultimately push them to leave.  

Because many of the Windrush generation arrived as children on their parents’ passports, and the Home Office destroyed thousands of landing cards and other records, many lacked the documentation to prove their right to remain in the UK. The Home Office also placed the burden of proof on individuals to prove their residency predated 1973. The Home Office demanded at least one official document from every year they had lived here. Attempting to find documents from decades ago created a huge, and in many cases, impossible burden on people who had done nothing wrong. 

Falsely deemed as ‘illegal immigrants’ / ‘undocumented migrants’ they began to lose their access to housing, healthcare, bank accounts and driving licenses. Many were placed in immigration detention, prevented from travelling abroad and threatened with forcible removal, while others were deported to countries they hadn’t seen since they were children.  

Their harmful and unjust treatment provoked widespread condemnation of government’s failings on the matter, with calls being made for radical reform of the Home Office and the UK’s immigration policy. In response to these demands, then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid announced in May 2018 that the Home Office would commission a ‘Windrush Lessons Learned Review’.  

What is the Windrush Lessons Learned Review? 

The Windrush Lessons Learned Review is an independent review overseen by Independent Adviser, Wendy Williams, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the Constabulary. It was intended to investigate how the Windrush scandal happened, and what lessons could be learned and implemented to prevent anything like it from happening again.  

As part of the review, the Independent Adviser launched a Call for Evidence from groups and individuals who had insight into what happened and why, including immigration advisors, lawyers, local authorities, employers and charities. We were one of the organisations who contributed to the review. 

What happens next? 

The review was finally published on 19 March 2020 - nearly two years since the scandal hit the headlines. The review makes absolutely clear that the Windrush scandal was not an accident, but the inevitable result of policies designed to make life impossible for those without the right papers. 

This, coupled with decades of immigration legislation explicitly aimed at reducing non-white immigration from the Commonwealth, destroyed the lives of many black and minority ethnic British people. 

Nothing can truly atone for what happened to the Windrush victims. But just as the scandal marked a turning point in public understanding of what the negative obsession with immigration has caused, so this Review must mark a turning point in Government attitudes towards immigration, if Britain is to believe in its own capacity for humanity, decency and fairness.

Read more about the Windrush Lessons Learned Review