Windrush Scandal: Who is the Windrush generation in the UK and the Windrush history explained

The Windrush political scandal of 2018 saw scores of people wrongly detained, denied legal rights, and threatened with deportation by the UK’s Home Office.

Wednesday, 24th November 2021, 9:20 am

The Windrush scandal is a major political scandal from 2018.

It’s named after the Windrush generation, who were in turn named after the Empire Windrush, a ship that travelled thousands of miles and brought the first large group of Caribbean migrants to the UK after World War II.

Here is everything you need to know about the Windrush generation, the scandal, and the compensation scheme that’s ongoing today.

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Caribbean migrants are welcomed by RAF officials after the Empire Windrush landed them in London in 1948 (PA Media/Getty Images)

What is the Windrush generation?

The Empire Windrush carried 492 passengers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and other islands to London in 1948 to help fill post-war labour shortages in the UK.

The ship’s passengers, many of them children, wee granted the right to settle in the UK by the British Nationality Act 1948.

Those legal rights meant those who had migrated did not need documents when they arrived, allowing them to settle indefinitely in the country without restrictions.

After their arrival in Tilbury on 22 June 1948, passengers were temporarily housed in a shelter in south west London, close to an employment exchange in Brixton, where some of them sought work.

Many of the migrants only intended to stay in the UK for a few years, and although a number returned, the majority remained and settled permanently.

Those born in Caribbean countries who settled in the UK between 1948 and 1971 are now widely referred to as the “Windrush generation”.

It’s unclear how many people belong to the Windrush generation, but the number is thought to be in the thousands.

According to the University of Oxford estimates, more than 500,000 UK residents were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971.

Among the Windrush passengers was Jamaican-British campaigner Sam Beaver King, who went on to become the first black Mayor of the London borough of Southwark.

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What was the Windrush Scandal?

The Windrush political scandal of 2018 saw scores of people wrongly detained, denied legal rights, and threatened with deportation by the UK’s Home Office.

When the Conservative government introduced its “hostile environment” immigrantion policy in the early 2010s, which was designed to make settling in the UK as difficult as possible for illegal immigrants, many of the Windrush generation fell foul of the new rules.

Under the 1971 Immigration Act, Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain.

But 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. Landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants were destroyed by the government in 2010.

This led to hundreds of people, who had lived in Britain their whole lives, suddenly being told they needed evidence to continue working, get NHS treatment or to even to remain in the UK. People were left fearful about their status.

A review of historical cases found that at least 83 individuals who had arrived before 1973 had been deported.

An inquiry into the scandal, which released its report in March last year, said it was “foreseeable and avoidable", and the report criticised "a culture of disbelief and carelessness" in the Home Office.

Then-Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to apologise to the Windrush generation for their treatment, and a compensation scheme was established.

What is the Windrush compensation scheme?

Since 2018, a compensation scheme was thought to have been “righting the wrongs” of the Windrush scandal that had seen many thousands of British residents denied healthcare, housing or the right to work.

It was expected that between £60 million and £260 million would be paid in compensation to around 11,500 people.

On November 24th, a cross-party Commons Home Affairs Committee revealed that it believed responsibility for the scheme should be transferred out of the Home Office, after finding “a litany of flaws” in how it was being managed.

At the end of September, just 20.1% of the initially estimated 15,000 eligible claimants had applied, 5.8% had received any payment, and 23 individuals had died without receiving compensation at all.

“The treatment of the Windrush generation by successive governments and the Home Office was truly shameful,” said the committee in a statement. “No amount of compensation could ever repay the fear, the humiliation and the hurt that was caused both to individuals and to communities affected.”