Windrush Review: will lessons actually be learned?
Updated: Apr 8
Statue of Edward Colston torn down in Bristol, England, CNN
The death of George Floyd at the hands of the United States authorities led to an eruption in worldwide demonstrations. It reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and has created huge waves of momentum and recognition of their advocacy on a global scale. The newly-renewed understanding of the flawed criminal justice system in the U.S. has continued to give space for individual reflection on racism and justice within people’s own communities.
Racism and police brutality are not only prevalent issues that exist in America. When protests erupted in the UK, people marched with signs that read ‘The UK is not innocent’, with lists of names of Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of UK authorities. These names include Christopher Alder, Kingsley Burrell, Rashan Charles, Edson Da Costa, and many more names who have filled up placards, been chanted in the streets, and will continue to be a driving force for systemic change. There may be less fatalities in the UK, but that doesn’t mean that cases of police brutality are any less racially motivated. As George Mpanga stated on Newsnight, there are 'disturbing parallels between the Black British experience and the African American experience’ (The Independent). This is partially due to the violent histories of the UK and America which are intertwined and have yet to be addressed in history curriculums.
In a list of actions to ‘Change the History Curriculum’ published by the Runnymede Trust, Sundeep Lidher writes that ‘British history is part of a global story, one shaped by migration, race, and the legacies of imperialism. But the way history is taught in our schools often fails to include Black British histories and broader British histories of empire and migration' (Runnymede).
The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (1999) and the recent Windrush Lessons Learned Review which was published in March of this year, both called for a deeper understanding of Britain’s empire, colonialism, and history of migration to recognise the institutional racism that is entrenched in our institutions. The Windrush Lessons Learned Review, written by Wendy Williams, was published 2 years after the Windrush scandal broke and outlined the UK’s treatment of the Windrush generation. It explained that it was a result of ‘institutional failures to understand race and racism in relation to the Macpherson definition of institutional racism’ (Lessons Learned Review).
The Windrush scandal was a devastating event that uncovered the government’s failure to address hostile environment policies and the attitudes towards immigration and Black Britons.
The Empire Windrush docks at Tilbury on 22 June 1948. Photograph: Contraband Collection/Alamy
The Windrush Generation
Those arriving in the UK between 1948 and 1973 from Caribbean countries have been called the ‘Windrush Generation’ (BBC News). The name Windrush comes from the ship the MV Empire Windrush which docked in Essex, on June 22nd 1948. It brought in nearly 500 workers from Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, and Barbados as a response to post-war labour shortages in the UK (Al Jazeera).
The 1971 Immigration Act allowed people who had arrived from Commonwealth countries before January 1973, the ‘right of abode’ to remain in the UK (Lessons Learned Review). However, the government provided no documents to demonstrate the Windrush generation’s legal status nor did it keep any records of their immigration.
This, as described in the Lessons Learned Review, set a trap for those affected by the political pressure to deal with the 'problem' of immigration. Amid the tightening of immigration rules, regulations imposed by Theresa May required employers, landlords, and health service providers to demand evidence of their immigration status (Kezi). Without appropriate documentation, people lost their jobs, were evicted, and threatened with deportation. To make matters worse, landing cards belonging to the Windrush generation were destroyed by the Home Office (The Independent). Although government sources have said that the cards alone didn’t provide any reliable evidence in relation to their ongoing residence in the UK, they may have provided part of the documentation to prove their individual status. The decision to destroy these cards was disappointing to say the least.
Amber Rudd, the former Home Secretary, admitted that the Home Office ‘has become too concerned with policy and strategy and sometimes loses sight of the individual’ (The Guardian). The ‘individual’ in this case being an estimated 500,000 people now living in the UK who the government had a duty to protect. The ‘hostile environment policy’ to tackle illegal immigration stemmed from the perceived problem of immigration itself. There is a long history of anti-immigrant discourse in the UK, which is why the treatment of the Windrush generation wasn't entirely an accident but a result of institutional failures.
The Lessons Learned Review pointed out factors ‘outside the Home Office’s responsibility’ which contributed to what happened to those affected by the scandal. One of them being a ‘history of prejudice towards black people in wider society’. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade, The British Empire, colonialism, police violence, the murder of Stephen Lawrence, Grenfell, and the Windrush scandal are all part of an intangible web. The failure to address the role of race and racism in British history is why the Windrush generation’s history was ‘institutionally forgotten’ (Lessons Learned Review).
Since the scandal broke, Theresa May has apologised for their treatment, the inquiry was published, and a compensation scheme was announced. However, without the implementation of the recommendations outlined in the Lessons Learned Review there is a risk of similar injustices happening again.
The government must implement past inquiry recommendations before issuing new ones that attempt to explain the anatomy of institutional racism. Boris Johnson has recently launched a 'cross governmental' commission' into racial disparities in education, health, and criminal justice in the UK to tackle what he calls the 'substance' and not the 'symbols' (Reuters). While this sounds good on paper, inquiries and reports published by the government seem like a quick-fix for deeper rooted issues. There is no need for another inquiry to prove that racism is an issue- it cannot be slapped on as a band-aid as a substitute for change as past inquiries have done. Lessons will only be learned once public inquiries do more than simply point fingers of blame at individuals and institutions.
Windrush Day is commemorated on the 22nd of June- the first being observed in 2018. I am happy to say that the city where I attend University takes pride in observing the legacy of the Windrush generation, thanks to the Devon Development of Education and its members. As an international student I am grateful to have the opportunity to educate myself and hear their stories. For more information on what the DDE does, take a look at their website: https://www.globalcentredevon.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=18&Itemid=269
You can also find my article on their Resources for Windrush Day page: