House of Lords Library | Arrival of the Empire Windrush: Celebrating the 75th anniversary


House of Lords Library | Arrival of the Empire Windrush: Celebrating the 75th anniversary

National Windrush Day on 22 June 2023 will mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the passengers of the Empire Windrush to the UK. The day celebrates the contribution and achievements of the Windrush generation and their descendants. This briefing provides background information for a debate in the House of Lords on the government’s plans to mark this celebration.

On 19 January 2023 the House of Lords is scheduled to debate the following question for short debate:

Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat) to ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush and the contribution made by Caribbean people to Britain.

1. Windrush Day

1.1 Background

On 21 June 1948, Her Majesty’s troopship the Empire Windrush laid anchor at Tilbury Docks, with her passengers disembarking the following day. The Empire Windrush carried hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean who, alongside people from other parts of the Commonwealth, came to the UK to fill post-war labour shortages. The “Windrush Generation” became the symbolic shorthand for people who came to work or join family in the UK between 1948 and 1973, particularly from Caribbean countries. Further information is provided in the House of Lords Library briefing, ‘UK Windrush Day: update on the Windrush scheme’ (13 July 2021).

In 2018, the government announced a national Windrush Day would take place on 22 June each year to pay tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants. In the same year, the government established the Windrush Commemoration Committee, chaired by Baroness Benjamin. In 2021, the committee commissioned the sculptor Basil Watson to create the National Windrush Monument. This was unveiled at London Waterloo Station on 22 June 2022.

1.2 Marking the day

The government also announced the establishment of the Windrush Day grant scheme in 2018. This is intended to fund projects to mark Windrush Day each year. Last year’s scheme was launched in February 2022. The government confirmed that, of the 198 eligible applications that were received for the 2022 scheme, funding was approved for 35 charities, community groups and local authorities in England. At the time of writing, details of the 2023 scheme have yet to be published.

The government has not announced any other specific additional celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush. In June 2022, during a debate on the Windrush review, Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Labour MP for Streatham) urged the government to set out plans for nationwide celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary. This was supported by Anne McLaughlin (SNP MP for Glasgow North East) during her speech. The then parliamentary under secretary of state for the Home Office, Kevin Foster, paid tribute to the Windrush generation in his speech during the debate. However, he did not set out any plans from the government for the celebration of the 75th anniversary.

The Windrush 75 Network, a group established with the support of the thinktank, British Future, is currently campaigning to promote celebration of the 75th anniversary. British Future has published a list of events to mark the anniversary, including those organised by the Royal British Legion and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The convenor of the network, Patrick Vernon, has said that, in addition to events already being organised around the country, there should be “significant major events which bring the whole country together like those in the Diamond Jubilee”.

The Telegraph has reported that King Charles III will commission portraits of some members of the Windrush generation to mark the anniversary. The Royal Mint has announced it will release a commemorative Windrush 50p coin and the Royal Mail has also announced it will release a Windrush stamp in June 2023.

2. Windrush lessons learned review and compensation scheme

2.1 Windrush scandal

In 2018, at the same time the government was establishing national Windrush Day and the Windrush Day grant scheme, it was also putting in place measures intended to address the injustices suffered by people affected by the ‘Windrush scandal’. Under the 1971 Immigration Act, people who had arrived from Commonwealth countries before January 1973 were given the “right of abode” in the UK. However, in many cases the government did not provide documents or keep records confirming this status. In 2018, the National Audit Office published a report which found that people who had been living in the UK as settled residents for decades under the 1971 Act had been adversely affected by immigration legislation created by successive UK governments. Specifically, people from the Windrush generation who lacked UK passports or sufficient documentation to prove their right to reside reported instances of detention; deportation; loss of employment; homelessness; loss of access to healthcare and benefits; and being unable to return if they left the UK. This was referred to as the “Windrush scandal”.

From 2018 onwards, successive home secretaries have acknowledged the Windrush generation had been treated unfairly and have apologised. In April 2019, the government introduced the Windrush compensation scheme, which is intended to provide compensation for those affected by the Windrush scandal.

The government also commissioned the then HM Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services Wendy Williams to conduct a review of the lessons to be learned from this scandal, focusing on events from 2008 onwards. Wendy Williams published her review in March 2020. It criticised the Home Office, describing the injustices suffered by members of the Windrush generation as “foreseeable and avoidable”. The report made 30 recommendations, including changes intended to improve the culture of the Home Office and protect people who may be affected by the immigration system. Following the report’s publication, the then government accepted all 30 of the recommendations in full.

In March 2022, the government published a follow-up review, also conducted by Wendy Williams, into the implementation of her recommendations by the Home Office. While she commended the general approach taken by the Home Office in implementing her recommendations, she said more progress needed to be made. This included the appointment of a migrants’ commissioner, whose role would be to speak up for migrants and those affected by the immigration system.

2.2 Recent developments

In January 2023, the Guardian reported that it had been informed by a “Whitehall source” that Home Secretary Suella Braverman was planning to abandon the government’s pledge to implement all of the recommendations of the Wendy Williams review. Specifically, the paper reported the home secretary had dropped plans to establish a migrants’ commissioner. The paper also said the home secretary had abandoned plans to increase the powers of the chief inspector of borders and immigration, also recommended by the review. The article included a reply from the government stating that it would not comment on leaks.

On 10 January 2023, shadow immigration minister, Stephen Kinnock, asked an urgent question on the implementation of the recommendations of the Williams review. Mr Kinnock accused the government of attempting to row back from its commitment to implement all 30 of the review’s recommendations. He also accused the government of not making sufficient progress in ensuring those eligible had received compensation under the Windrush compensation scheme. Parliamentary under secretary of state at the Home Office, Sarah Dines, said the Home Office had made “sustained progress” in delivering the recommendations of the Williams review. However, she said there was “more to do” and that the government would continue to correct the injustices experienced by members of the Windrush generation. She also said that, at the end of October 2022, the Home Office had paid out or offered £59.58mn of compensation to the victims of the Windrush scandal.

This urgent question was repeated in the House of Lords on 12 January 2023. Baroness Benjamin asked the government whether it could categorically commit to implementing the recommendations of the Williams review in full. She also said 2023 should be a year of celebration of the Windrush generation, but noted with anxiety the Guardian reports that some of the Windrush review recommendations would not be implemented. This followed a letter by Baroness Benjamin to the government articulating the same concerns, sent on 9 January 2023. Parliamentary under secretary of state at the Home Office, Lord Murray of Blidworth, repeated that the government would not comment on leaks. However, he agreed that there should be a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush.

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