iNews: Windrush victims have heard the Government’s promises. Now we know they were all empty
By Patrick Vernon
In almost five years since the Windrush scandal, the African and Caribbean community has been met with a lot of promises and warm words. First, the assurances came from the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, whose policies helped create the issue in the first place. Then former Home Secretary Priti Patel stated in every speech her commitment to righting these wrongs. Now, after years of insisting otherwise, the Home Office is slowly washing its hands of the issue, last week dropping some of the key recommendations outlined in Wendy Williams’s Windrush Lessons Learned review.
The expression “righting the wrongs” has been used a lot over the centuries, but the version that sticks in my mind came in the late 19th Century, when journalist, educator and early civil rights activist Ida B Wells wrote, in response to the lynchings of African Americans in the south during the 1890s, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
The concept and notion of “righting the wrongs” is based on the principles of restorative justice where the perpetrator admits guilt and works with the victim to coproduce solutions to resolve the injustice. Some means of “righting the wrongs”, particularly in the last 50 years, have manifested in the form of “corporate social responsibility”, affirmative action policies, and wider equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives.
In 1990s post-apartheid South Africa, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Truth and Reconciliation Process, built upon the principles of Ubuntu, as a means of creating inclusion and respect for all, was launched. It was intended to acknowledge historical wrongs and create a platform for a new multicultural and pluralist South Africa. This issue has now focussed on debates around reparation and land reform, as the earlier vision of “righting the wrongs” has not materialised.
In the UK a similar approach was partially adopted during the 1980s by the Greater London Council (now the Greater London Authority) and several other local government bodies, leading to the creation of Black History Month in 1987, with a focus on addressing historical colonial injustices by the British Empire, including the negation of black contributions to British and world history.
The McPherson Inquiry following the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and the major finding that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist” in the systematic failure of its handling of the murder investigation, was also meant to be a turning point in “righting the wrongs” in terms of race relations and public accountability of the police and other institutions.
Mere decades later, that work appears to have been undone. A 2022 report by the Black Equality Organisation recently highlighted significant distrust between the Black community and the state, with 60 per cent of respondents saying “they did not see the change needed to address” their poor experiences when dealing with numerous institutions.
Race equality and further development of restorative justice had largely been off the political agenda from the late 1990s until 2018, when the Home Office launched a series of policy changes in April 2018, in an attempt to “right the wrongs” of the Windrush Scandal. Since then, Theresa May, as prime minister, and the last three home secretaries have publicly apologised on several occasions for the historic treatment of the Windrush Generation and other Commonwealth communities by previous governments over the last 50 years.
The Home Office launched a series of policy changes from April 2018, establishing the Windrush Taskforce, Windrush compensation scheme, temporarily suspending deportation flights, funding a national Windrush memorial statute, adopting a national Windrush Day with funding, and of course launching the Lessons Learned Review in an attempt to resolve the scandal.
After weeks of speculation, we finally had confirmation from the Home Secretary that she would not implement the full recommendations of the Lessons Learned Review last week – rejecting three instead. The move further highlights the Home Office’s lack of commitment and leadership to tackle the scandal, let alone any chance of building already broken trust between the Home Office and the survivors and families of members of the Windrush Generation. The failure of the delivery of the Windrush compensation scheme was already bad. Now it’s even clearer that the smoke screen of “righting the wrongs” has been used to gaslight the Windrush Generation, hoodwink the public and suggest the Government is equipped to clear up its own mess.
The result? Further trauma and dwindling confidence in politicians and the Government in general. The rejection of a Migrant Commissioner and reconciliation events just goes to show the Home Office is not prepared to be accountable and transparent, nor does it appear to have any desire to listen and learn from the lived experience of survivors and families affected by the scandal – which is, as I see it, one of the biggest abuses of human rights of British citizens in centuries.
April will mark the fifth anniversary of the Windrush Scandal. What we need to do now is renew our energy around campaigning and advocacy to hold both Home Secretary and Prime Minister to account to deliver on their promises. The Black Equity Organisation has already garnered over 50,000 signatures from its petition to demand the Government implements recommendations, and a number of activists are considering a national demonstration on Windrush Day, 22 June (first established in the 1980s by the late Sam King MBE, Second World War veteran and passenger on the Empire Windrush), to put further pressure on Suella Braverman to do the right thing.
The UN working group of experts on people of African descent has already found that “racism in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is structural, institutional and systemic” and that “people of African descent…continue to encounter racial discrimination and erosion of their fundamental rights”. It has also made recommendations, due to be outlined in its 2023 report, that the Government must commit to reconciliation events to build trust with the Windrush Generation if they are serious about learning the lessons from the scandal.
It is ironic that as we approach the 75th anniversary of the docking of the Empire Windrush ship at Tilbury, which ushered in a new period of British history, this Government is now making choices that are reminiscent of colonial attitudes and anti-Blackness, the same treatment that my parents and many others from the Windrush Generation received. The Home Office cannot be trusted. We need major structural reforms around its leadership, admission that it’s institutionally racist and a change in the Home Secretary’s hostile behaviour and language towards migrants and refugees. Anything less will amount to pure gaslighting.
Patrick Vernon OBE is a British social commentator and activist. He played a key role in campaigning for a national Windrush Day on 22 June