The Windrush generation Contents


1.Commonwealth citizens who arrived in the UK after the Second World War and before 1973 are often described as the ‘Windrush generation’, in reference to the ship MV Empire Windrush on which citizens from the Caribbean first arrived in 1948 to help rebuild a post-war United Kingdom. There were no immigration restrictions on people from Commonwealth countries entering the UK at that time; they were known as the ‘freely landed’. They were allowed to live and work anywhere within the territories of the ‘United Kingdom and Colonies’. The arrival of the Windrush marked the start of a phase of Commonwealth migration which continued throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

2.The Immigration Act 1971 confirmed that those people who were already present and settled in the UK when the Act came into force on 1 January 1973—i.e. those without any restriction on their leave—were entitled to stay indefinitely in the UK. It also recognised the right of wives and children to join them, a right which was retained until the Immigration Act 1988.

3.Until now, no Government had set out comprehensive policies to ensure that these cohorts of people had their legal status fully documented. However, a lack of documentation, together with the introduction of policies requiring people to prove their right to be in the UK in order to access essential services, has led to thousands of people being placed in a precarious position through no fault of their own. People have lost their homes and their jobs and been refused healthcare, pensions and access to social security. Not only did they not have documentation which proved their legal status in the UK but, as we will set out in this report, it was made very difficult for them to gain it.

4.During our inquiry we heard how vulnerable people did not understand why they were told they did not have the necessary documentation—since they considered themselves British—or what they should do about it. Many more tried unsuccessfully to prove their rights only to come up against the barrier of Home Office bureaucracy and poor decision-making. Some could simply not afford the fees. As the Home Secretary admitted in May 2018: “there is no question [ … ] that a number of people from that generation have been mistreated”;1 they “have been seriously let down by the immigration system”.2

5.On 13 June 2018, we published a short report recommending the Government set up a hardship fund for those members of the Windrush generation in acute financial difficulty.3 In this report we have looked where we can at what went wrong, how many people have been affected and the adequacy of the Government’s response. We should be clear that we do not regard this as a full inquiry into what happened as there are many questions left unanswered and we have not had access to internal Home Office papers. We would like to thank all those who helped us with our inquiry, but particularly Hubert Howard and Sarah O’Connor, themselves members of the Windrush generation, for sharing their experiences with us. We took oral evidence from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants; the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association; and the Immigration Services Union. We also took oral evidence from the Home Secretary, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP; the former Home Secretary, Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP; the Minister for Immigration, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP; and Home Office officials. We met privately with High Commissioners from Caribbean countries, and visited the Windrush taskforce at Lunar House, Croydon, to see for ourselves how the Home Office was responding.

1 Oral evidence taken on 15 May 2018, HC (2017–19) 990, Q217

2 HC Deb, 2 May 2018, Col 349

3 Home Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, Windrush: the need for a hardship fund, HC 1200

Published: 3 July 2018