The Windrush generation

Lord Kitchener

It is 75 years since the HMT Empire Windrush docked in Tilbury, Essex, on 22 June 1948, carrying passengers from the Caribbean to fill labour shortages in the UK.

In 2018 it emerged that the government had not properly recorded the details of people who had been granted permission to stay in the UK, and many were wrongly deported.

492 passengers, and others who arrived to the UK from Caribbean countries between 1948 and 1971, became known as the Windrush generation.

Many had served in the British armed forces in World War Two.

People from across the then British Empire were encouraged to move to the UK to help with post-War labour shortages and rebuild its battered economy.

Many of those who came became manual workers, drivers, cleaners, and nurses in the newly-established NHS.

Some broke new ground in representing black Britons in society.

Jamaican-British Sam Beaver King

Jamaican-British Sam Beaver King served in the RAF during the War, and took a job as a postman after arriving at Tilbury in his 20s.

He became a campaigner for black-British rights, and the first black mayor of Southwark. He also established a programme for migrants to buy homes in the UK, and co-founded the country’s first Caribbean-style carnival – a precursor to the Notting Hill Carnival.

It is unclear how many people from the Windrush generation are still in the UK, but the number is thought to be in the thousands.

They are among more than 500,000 UK residents who were born in a Commonwealth country and arrived before 1971, according to University of Oxford estimates.

The 1971 Immigration Act gave Commonwealth citizens living in the UK indefinite leave to remain – the permanent right to live and work in the UK.

This included the Windrush generation but also people from other former British colonies in South Asia and Africa.

However, in April 2018, it emerged that the UK Home Office had kept no records of those granted permission to stay, and had not issued the paperwork they needed to confirm their status.

Michael Braithwaite

It had also destroyed landing cards belonging to Windrush migrants, in 2010.

Those affected were unable to prove they were in the country legally and were prevented from accessing healthcare, work and housing.

Many were also threatened with deportation.

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

In April 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May apologised for their treatment. An inquiry was announced and a compensation scheme established.

The inquiry, which released its report in March 2020, said that the scandal was both “foreseeable and avoidable”, and criticised “a culture of disbelief and carelessness” in the Home Office.

Inquiry author Wendy Williams warned there was a “grave risk” of similar problems happening again without government action.

Then-Home Secretary Priti Patel accepted the recommendations in full.

But in January 2023, the current Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced the Home office was dropping three of the commitments.

Wendy Williams criticised the decision, saying the proposals would have raised the “confidence of the Windrush community”.

The Windrush Compensation Scheme was established in April 2019. About 15,000 people were thought to be eligible.

But the scheme has been consistently criticised for processing delays, low offers, and unfair rejections reversed on appeal.

In 2021, the Home Affairs Committee of MPs found the scheme had itself become a further trauma for those eligible. It said many of those affected were “still too fearful of the Home Office to apply”.

In April 2023, Human Rights Watch said the scheme was “failing” victims, and repeated calls for it to be removed from the Home Office’s control.

In response, the Home Office said it was “committed to righting the wrongs of Windrush”, and that the scheme had paid or offered more than £68m in compensation to the people affected.

The government insisted it would ensure “similar injustices can never be repeated and [was] creating a Home Office worthy of every community it serves”.