Katie explains the scandal surrounding the recent treatment of British immigrants of the Windrush generation, and why it has led to mass criticism and ultimately the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
What does the recent ‘Windrush’ controversy show about Britain?
In the past weeks we have seen the most recent of the government’s crises play out, as it has been exposed that the children of ‘Windrush’ migrants who arrived before 1973 could face deportation if they can not prove their right to live in the UK. Alongside this there are many reported cases of members of the ‘Windrush’ generation being subject to societal negligence, from loss of legitimate employment to being refused access to radiotherapy, due to their inability to prove their residence. This controversy has exposed holes in the Conservative Party’s management of immigration statistics and information and was certainly the cause of ex Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s resignation. However, not only has it exposed holes in our political system, the tragedy of the treatment of ‘Windrush’ migrants and their descendants, the majority of whom are of Afro-Caribbean descent, has raised the pressing issue of the racism and prejudice that still exists in Britain.
The ‘Windrush’ generation refers to people of Caribbean heritage who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971, often following the call for labourers to aid in British government plans to rebuild infrastructure after the Second World War. The term ‘Windrush’ originates from the name of the MV Empire Windrush which arrived here in June 1948. New immigration laws introduced in 2012 require people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare, has left people fearful about their status. This is because in 1971 when all Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain, by the Immigration Act, The Home Office did not issue any documents confirming this. The result is there are thousands of people living in Britain who, despite complete legal right to be here, have no documentation to prove this. Even though the facts point to this being a problem that the government has the responsibility to solve and that the people living in the UK without this documentation should suffer as little as possible, for some reason, despite this being 2018, this has not happened.
There are significant numbers of horror stories of people of the ‘Windrush’ generation being racially discriminated against and their lack of documentation being used as an excuse. Londoner Sylvester Marshall, who has lived in the UK for 44 years, was asked to pay £54,000 upfront for radiotherapy treatment for his prostate cancer. Even though many representatives of the NHS have condemned this handling of Mr Marshall’s cancer care and the nine year delay of his treatment has been described as “morally indefensible” by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA council chair, the question still begs of how did something like this happen? There is definitely a substantiated argument that systematic and institutional levels of racism have contributed to the grave mistreatment of ‘Windrush’ migrants and that the recent controversy has simply shone a light on the ugly side of Britain. The misconception that ‘Britishness’ equals ‘whiteness’ has fed into a administrative problem and turned it into one that demonstrates the depth and breadth of racism in this country.
To answer the question of what the ‘Windrush’ controversy shows about Britain, maybe it is that beliefs about what Britain is are varied and complex and that whilst some people are deluded enough to believe that racism no longer exists, it is clear that many ‘Brits’ still reinforce racial stereotypes and make vast assumptions based on racial identity. Those of the ‘Windrush’ generation have been victims of this evidently racist society, as despite many coming here to rebuild this country their ‘Britishness’ is being questioned and their access to services which their tax has helped pay for is being denied. In the wake of the 25th Anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence we must ask how far Britain has come since five white men were not even tried for the murder of an eighteen year old black man that they had all undoubtedly committed. Surely we would hope that Britain has learnt from past mistakes and that now justice would be served? However, I wonder if Sylvester Marshall would have so much faith in the justice system or even in his fellow ‘Brits’?
Looking forward, there is surely no choice but to try and be hopeful. We must have hope that the plight of the ‘Windrush’ generation will not be in vain and that more and more people will become ‘woke’ to issues of racial identity, discrimination and the experiences of ethnic, religious and cultural ‘minorities’. Only time will tell how quickly progress will be made, how many months or years it is needed for ‘Brits’ across the country to open their eyes to the existence of racism, in our police, schools and media. Let’s make sure it is sooner rather than later that being ‘British’ can truly mean anything.
By Katie Wharton