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Official Windrush review comes close to accusing the Home Office of racism

19 March 2020

Ignorance was built into institution, says Windrush review


MV Empire Windrush arrives at the Port of Tilbury on 22 June 1948

MV Empire Windrush arrives at the Port of Tilbury on 22 June 1948

THE Home Office demonstrated “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation” over several decades, when it failed to protect these citizens from deportation, an independent inquiry has found.

The report has been welcomed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The “Windrush generation” is a reference to the ship Empire Windrush, which, in 1948, brought workers from the West Indies to Britain (Comment, 13 April 2018; Features, 29 June 2018).

Thousands of people from the Caribbean, including children who travelled under a parent’s passport, made their home in Britain during a period when immigrants were encouraged by the UK Government, between 1948 and 1971. Owing to a lack of paperwork, many children of this generation have struggled to prove that they are in the UK legally, and have faced deportation and the suspension of benefits or access to health services.

The Windrush Lessons Learned Review was established by the Home Office in May 2018 shortly after the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, apologised for the treatment of the Windrush citizens and promised that no one else would be deported (News, 20 April 2018). Its final report was published on Thursday.

Its author, Wendy Williams, an inspector of constabulary, writes: “Members of the Windrush generation and their children have been poorly served by this country. They had every right to be here and should never have been caught in the immigration net. The many stories of injustice and hardship are heart-breaking, with jobs lost, lives uprooted, and untold damage done to so many individuals and families.

“However, despite the scandal taking the Home Office by surprise, my report sets out that what happened to those affected by the Windrush scandal was foreseeable and avoidable.”

She gives the example of Nathaniel, a British citizen, who in 2001 went on holiday to Jamaica with his daughter Veronica but was not allowed back into the UK. He died in Jamaica nine years later, having been unable to afford treatment for prostate cancer, which would have been given to him free in the UK. Other people in his generation were forcibly removed or detained despite their legal right to live in the UK.

The Home Office showed a “complete disregard” for Windrush citizens when tightening immigration and introducing hostile environment policies, Ms Williams says. “It denied people access to work, housing and services, even though they were here lawfully and therefore lawfully entitled to access them. Some lost their jobs, their homes, and in many cases their sense of identity and wellbeing. Inevitably, their families also paid a price.”

There was also significant lack of documentation and a “culture of disbelief and carelessness” when dealing with applications.

“While I am unable to make a definitive finding of institutional racism within the department, I have serious concerns that these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism.”

In February, the Archbishop of Canterbury apologised for the Church’s part in the racist welcome given to Caribbean immigrants during a debate on the Windrush legacy at the General Synod. He described the Church as still being “deeply institutionally racist” (News, 14 February).

In a statement to the House of Lords last Thursday, Archbishop Welby said: “One of the historic failures of the Church of England — in many ways as bad as the hostile environment — was the terrible reception that we gave the Windrush generation, the vast majority of whom were Anglicans, when they came here.

“They were often turned away from Church of England churches, or were given a very weak welcome or no welcome at all. As a result, they went off and formed their own churches, which have flourished much better than ours. We would be so much stronger had we behaved correctly. I have apologised for that, and I continue to do so and see the wickedness of our actions.”

On the call for a culture change, Archbishop Welby said: “I am only too aware of how hard that is in any institution. In the values statement and in the way in which the ethical standards are set out, will there be metrics and clear, tangible tests rather than mere expressions of good intent so that it can be reflected on?”

Responding to the Archbishop, Baroness Williams of Trafford said that she had not realised that the Church of England had given the Windrush generation “such an awful reception. It feels a bit like a confessional at the moment, but it is reflected in the report that we all need to look to ourselves to see where we have gone wrong.

“The report is not a blame game but a narrative over almost 70 years of where everyone failed these people. The Home Secretary has not replied to the recommendations yet — one would not expect her to — but I will certainly take those points on the recommendations back. Reconciliation can bring out some wonderful things.”

The report makes 30 recommendations under three main headings: that the Home Office must acknowledge the wrong which has been done; it must be open to greater external scrutiny; and it must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy is about people, and therefore “should be rooted in humanity”.

Ms Williams goes on to describe the Home Office as “fragmented” and “target-dominated” leading to “low-quality decision-making” and cases being processed “without adequate quality-control safeguards”. There was a lack of black and ethnic-minority (BAME) workers at a senior level.

Describing her interviews with senior civil servants and former ministers, she says: “While some were thoughtful and reflective about the cause of the scandal, some showed ignorance and a lack of understanding of the root causes, and a lack of acceptance of the full extent of the injustice done.”

Despite being “scared and scarred” by their ordeals, the families and individuals of Windrush whom Ms Williams interviewed showed “dignity and calm”, she writes.

In a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, apologised for the “terrible injustices” the Windrush generation had experienced over several decades, and the “institutional failings” of successive governments. She that she would review the recommendations to the Home Office regarding its leadership, culture, and practices.

“I have personally been deeply moved reading the report. The Windrush Lessons Learned Review gives voice to members of the Windrush generation who arrived legally to the UK to help rebuild post-war Britain. . . They made our country stronger, more vibrant and more successful as a nation.

“Which is why we were all shocked to discover that they and their families were subject to such insensitive treatment by the very country that they called home. . . Some members of this generation suffered terrible injustices spurred by institutional failings spanning successive governments over several decades. . .

“Officials should and could have done more. . . I am sorry that people’s trust has been betrayed.”

She pointed to the community work of the Commonwealth Citizens Taskforce, the £500,000 grant to support community Windrush projects, and announced the expansion of a working group to better support the Windrush generation (News, 29 March 2019).

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