On 22 June 1948, nearly 500 Caribbean migrants entered the UK aboard the HMT Windrush to fill labour shortages which had been caused, in part, by the Second World War. These individuals became known as the “Windrush Generation” and went on to play a significant role in supporting Britain’s ravaged post-war economy. Many also filled essential roles which supported the establishment of the newly-created National Health Service.
What the Windrush generation brought to Britain
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation, and there is much to be celebrated! These individuals settled in Great Britain, raised their families here and made immense contributions to the country. Their arrival positively changed the diversity and make-up of the UK and shaped and enriched its culture. With an estimated 500,000 descendants of the Windrush Generation living in the UK today, we are fortunate to continue to benefit from a vibrant Caribbean heritage and have the privilege of experiencing the richness of its influence on food, music, literature and art.
How were the Windrush generation treated?
Unfortunately, the Windrush generation’s lives were not without challenges, and many were made to feel unwelcome. At the time, the Caribbean was part of the British Commonwealth, so those who arrived were free to live and work permanently in the UK. Despite this, many individuals experienced racism and discrimination. This was exacerbated in 2018 when new right to work rules were introduced by the UK government under the controversial “hostile environment” policy supported by Theresa May. Despite having been granted the unconditional right to live and work in the UK under the Immigration Act 1971, it became clear that many of these citizens did not have the necessary paperwork to prove they had permission to do so. As a result, despite their significant contribution to the UK economy and having lived and worked in Britain for many years, many of the Windrush Generation were suddenly prevented from accessing healthcare, work and housing and thousands were unlawfully deported.
In March 2020, the UK Government formally apologised for the treatment, but this apology was too little and too late. A compensation scheme was also launched for victims of the scandal, but reports suggest that payments under the scheme have been both woefully inadequate and unnecessarily delayed.
There are many lessons to be learned from this situation, but it is a poignant reminder that our society is a melting pot of different and unique identities - if we choose to embrace, celebrate and value those differences our lives will be all the richer.
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