Campaigners for the rights of those affected by the Windrush scandal expressed concern that the issue was raised just twice in the controversial 258-page racial disparity report commissioned by the government.
The report concludes Britain is no longer a place where “the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”, despite the scandal providing one of the clearest examples in recent history where government decisions caused catastrophic, racially discriminatory outcomes.
Patrick Vernon, whose campaigning helped force the government to take action on Windrush, said: “I can see why they haven’t included it. If they had focused on the scandal they would have had to admit that there was a systematic, structural failure in how the Home Office targeted the Windrush generation.”
The report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities mentions Windrush, alongside Grenfell, in its foreword, as an instance “where ethnic minority communities have rightly felt let down”, but continues: “Outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted.”
However, an independent investigation into the causes of the Windrush scandal published last year, the Lessons Learned review, found that the Home Office had displayed “institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness” on race issues, “consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”. The report’s author, Wendy Williams, also highlighted a lack of understanding among officials about the nature of racism, concluding: “There seems to be a misconception that racism is confined to decisions made with racist motivations … This is a misunderstanding of both the law and racism generally.”
The second, and only other, reference to the scandal comes in the conclusion, when it is mentioned in passing as an exceptional example of things going wrong. The report’s conclusion maintains a determinedly upbeat tone, and hints that to dwell on it further would be unhelpful. Despite Windrush, the report concludes “incremental progress is being made as our report has shown beyond doubt. Through focusing on what matters now, rather than refighting the battles of the past, we want to build on that progress.”
Anthony Brown, who runs the Windrush Defenders Legal group in Manchester, and who was himself affected by Windrush problems, said he was frustrated by the suggestion that the scandal had been dealt with and it was time to move on. “I don’t feel that the government has fundamentally taken on board what the Windrush scandal means. A whole cohort of people were marginalised,” he said.
In places, the report blames family structures rather than government policies for race disparities, stating: “In many areas of investigation … we were led upstream to family breakdown as one of the main reasons for poor outcomes. Family is also the foundation stone of success for many ethnic minorities.”
Vernon said this line contained an implicit subtext, blaming individuals for things that go wrong. “The narrative of the report is that it is up to the individual to succeed: if you work hard, keep your head down, you will achieve and be successful in Britain, and if you don’t then, that’s your fault. The policies of the hostile environment took away people’s rights, but the report tries to say: actually you have all the rights you need.”
Satbir Singh, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said it was remarkable that Windrush attracted barely a passing mention in the report. “To suggest that these are solved problems that do not need addressing is to gaslight millions of people who know the difference between their own lived experiences and the fictions the government would prefer us all to believe,” he said.
Community activist Desmond Jaddoo, who helps run the Windrush National Organisation to secure justice for thousands of people who were wrongly classified as immigration offenders by the Home Office, was disappointed by the report. “There was a culture of not believing members of the Windrush generation, who had to jump through hoops to prove that they were telling the truth.”
Elwaldo Romeo, who was told he was in the UK illegally and faced detention after 59 years in the country, said he was disappointed by what he had heard of the report. “There’s no compassion and no understanding of what we have gone through,” he said. “Of course they want to sweep it under the carpet. Is there racism within the government and the Home Office? Yes.”
Halima Begum, the chief executive of the Runnymede Trust, said the report tried to reference racism as a historical matter, despite the recent evidence. “The hostile environment still operates and victims of the Windrush scandal still do not have justice,” she said.