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Reflecting on Windrush

An older Black woman stares thoughtfully out of the window

75 years on

On the 75th anniversary of Windrush, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Age UK, considers the past, present and future of the Windrush Generation.



This year marks the 75th anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush to the port of Tilbury, Essex, on 22 June 1948.

The ship carried hundreds of people from the Caribbean, many of them veterans of the Second World War, invited by the UK government to fill labour shortages and support Britain’s post-war recovery. This group and those who followed, migrating from the Caribbean between 1948-1971, have come to be known as the Windrush Generation.

The impact of the Windrush Generation

The Windrush Generation and their descendants have made significant contributions to British society. Supporting the country to rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War, many went to work in the newly created National Health Service (NHS) as nurses, midwives, auxiliary workers, cooks and cleaners. They drove buses and trains for Transport for London and laboured in factories across the country. They brought new musical genres to the UK – ska, reggae, lovers rock, calypso, and jazz – and forged successful pathways into politics, media, sports and television. My mother-in-law, who is 82, told me about the arrival of a Caribbean family on their road, and the fantastic contribution they made to The Queen's Silver Jubilee Street party in 1977.

Annually, on 22 June, we recognise and thank the Windrush Generation and their descendants for their enormous contributions to our society. As part of this celebration, it is vital that we also acknowledge the prejudice, hostility and racism that this group has faced at both an individual and institutional level.

The greatest injustice

The greatest sadness, and the greatest injustice, has been the way that these older people have been treated in recent times. In 2017, it emerged that members of the Windrush Generation were being detained and deported as a result of the Home Office denying their legal right to be in the UK. Falsely deemed as illegal immigrants and undocumented migrants, members of this generation lost access to housing, healthcare, employment, social security, bank accounts and driver’s licenses. Many were placed in immigration detention and forcibly removed from the UK. Those affected were unable to prove they were in the country legally as the Home Office had destroyed immigration records.

When the then Home Secretary Amber Rudd apologised for the failings of the Home Office, expectations were raised that a fair and effective compensation scheme would be created and swiftly implemented, in recompense for the harm experienced. Sadly, this has not come to pass. As we reflect on the 75th anniversary, at Age UK, we think it is right that we mark and celebrate the wonderful contributions the Windrush Generation have made. But we also need to highlight and stand with all those who have been terribly wronged.

Flaws in the Windrush Scheme

Age UK has been listening to the experiences and challenges that many older people from the Windrush Generation have faced and continue to face. Their stories and experiences starkly highlight that if the purpose of the compensation scheme were to provide reassurances because the Government cared about this group of older people, who have given so much to this country, and wanted to do right by them, it has had the opposite effect.

The truth is that the Windrush Scheme is failing due to the huge levels of bureaucracy, the slowness of processing claims, and the small number of cases finally settled. As the Home Office has placed the burden of proof on individuals to prove their residency prior to 1973, it is extremely difficult to obtain documents going back decades. This has resulted in those affected losing their jobs, access to their pensions, healthcare, and other benefits.

The scheme’s flaws are so obvious, yet remain unaddressed, that they make our State look incompetent and disinterested in treating people fairly. Many will therefore conclude it is another example of the institutional racism that so many Black people have experienced while living in the UK.

Making improvements

An appropriately generous and well-run compensation scheme could begin to make amends for the enormous detriment many have suffered, in the process rebuilding some much-needed trust and confidence. That scheme is not in place now, but it could be, if the Government accepts the need for some fundamental changes to how the current scheme is designed and run, and acknowledges that failure to do so will continue to have a financial and psychological impact on those affected. 

  • The Windrush compensation scheme should be administered by an independent body, not the Home Office.
  • Compensation for pension losses and loss of future earnings should be included in the scheme.
  • The application process should be simplified and access to legal aid made easily available.
  • The application and appeal processes should be speeded up.
  • A stronger cross-Government approach put in place, since different departments have a role to play.
  • The levels of compensation must be adequate and routes to challenge Home Office decisions must be improved.

Over the past few weeks, I have been working with colleagues who have reached out to Windrush organisations and advocates to better understand how Age UK can improve the services to older people who have been impacted. As a result of those conversations and listening to the voices of those impacted first hand, we have now launched a Windrush Information and Advice page on the Age UK website.

We owe it to this generation of Black older people, who have given so much to the UK – including years of service to the NHS, the educational system, and our armed forces. They must be treated equitably and fairly. Everyone who has suffered and continues to suffer because of these systematic failures should receive full compensation, with no more undue delay. There will continue to be an ugly stain on the reputation of this country until this happens.

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Last updated: Jun 21 2023

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