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A debt is owed to the Windrush Generation

Published on 05 March 2024 11:53 AM

By Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard is London's Deputy Mayor for Communities and Social Justice:

Last year Londoners and the nation paid tribute to the Windrush generation as we marked 75 years of the arrival of MV Empire Windrush at Tilbury Docks.

Ceremonies, festivals and discussions honoured the contributions that the Windrush generation and their descendants have made and continue to make to this city.

However, while it is cause for celebration, there is a long-standing shadow hanging over us all: We cannot lose sight of the fact that too many members of the Windrush Generation have endured disgraceful treatment and are still waiting for justice.

Windrush elders, who have contributed so much to our nation, have been treated disgracefully by this Government and their hostile environment policy. It is horrendous that at least 53 people have died while waiting to receive the compensation they are owed and that they deserve.

That’s why the Mayor of London and I welcome this report from Age UK as a timely reminder of the urgent reform still needed, and the strength of the collective work happening to ensure the Windrush Generation and their descendants access justice.

It reiterates the long-standing calls of campaigners and the Mayor of London for the compensation scheme to be taken away from the Home Office in favour of an independent process to speed up its delivery.

The individual stories shared in this report demonstrate the way many of the Windrush Generation with the right to work were excluded from the labour market, and the devastating financial impact this had on them and their families.

Glenda, Thomas and Conroy’s stories demonstrate the cumulative injustice, rooted in racism, that this generation was subjected to. Conroy arrived at 16 and wasn’t allowed to study because he was Black. After serving in the army, he was refused housing and remained homeless for 18 years. Thomas worked 50 years as an engineer before being told he no longer had permission to work. Glenda worked for the NHS for 20 years before being forced to live with no income for a decade. These individuals, who came here as children and worked for years as British taxpayers, have survived a lifetime of exclusion from support. 

Their stories illustrate the intergenerational catastrophe of the Home Office scandal as an issue that impacts older Londoners and young Londoners. As Conroy says, “When the Government couldn’t get me, they came for my son”. Glenda’s son was also prevented from gaining citizenship. Both have lost family members and been prevented from grieving them.

And this isn’t over. We know members of the Windrush Generation still struggle to access the housing, healthcare and pensions they are entitled to today.

These are people that came here as British subjects but are not being treated like them. We’ve seen similar concerning behaviour towards European nationals who have lived here all their lives and now suddenly have to navigate Home Office paperwork – changes that are especially difficult for older citizens to navigate.

That’s why it’s so important we all understand that the wrongs that have happened must be righted, while ensuring that it doesn’t happen again to others.  

We have seen how quickly the Government can respond in correcting injustices, but there is clearly a lack of will when it comes to this issue.

The Mayor and I will continue to fight alongside the community for access to justice, as a debt is owed to the Windrush Generation and their family members to right these wrongs – and time is running out.

You can read Age UK's report here. 

Dr Debbie Weekes-Bernard is London's Deputy Mayor for Communities and Social Justice