Your say / Windrush Generation

‘This shameful injustice to Windrush generation has deep roots’

By marvin rees, Friday Mar 27, 2020

Like everyone in the UK, I watched the Win­drush scandal unfold with dismay and horror.

But as the UK’s only elected mayor of Carib­bean descent, sadly I did not watch it with huge surprise. For as the Lessons Learned re­view published last week makes clear, this shameful injustice has deep roots.

The Windrush scan­dal is a product of rac­ism. Absolutely. But to focus only on that would miss the fact that this scandal was also funda­mentally a product of centralisation, and the deadly effect of policy being made by people who are distant from, unrepresentative of, and frankly uninterested in the people they are sup­posed to be serving.

One of the most shocking elements of Wendy Williams’ report is the extent to which former ministers and senior civil servants are still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the devastating conse­quences of their ac­tions. This lack of re­pentance is symptomat­ic of the profound dis­tance between those setting the rules in the Home Office and the people in communities affected by them.

Patrick Vernon OBE, a leading campaigner on the Windrush scandal, addresses a public meeting hosted by mayor Marvin Rees and deputy mayor Asher Craig in Malcolm X Centre. Photo by Ellie Pipe

As a city leader, if I spent more than £3m on setting up and running a compensa­tion scheme that then gave out only £62,000 to 36 people, council taxpayers would be ap­palled.

And yet that is exactly what the Home Office has done with the Windrush Compen­sation Scheme.

The Lessons Learned review describes “a cul­ture of disbelief and carelessness” in the Home Office. Of course, part of what enables and encourages this culture is the chronic lack of representation among politicians and civil servants. How else can it be explained that an entire section of the population had their history “institutionally forgotten” by one of the largest government de­partments?

Local gov­ernment is far from per­fect on this front, but in Bristol, we are making huge efforts to ensure that those running the city are representative of those who live here.

As mayor, I bring with me the experience of having grown up as a mixed-race child in a single-parent house­hold. My deputy mayor for communities is a Rastafarian daughter of the Windrush genera­tion, while my advisor on migration is a former journalist and refugee from Zimbabwe.

We may have a home secretary with a migrant background, but the Home Office needs to go much further, much faster in terms of the di­versity of those setting and implementing poli­cy. Only then do we have any chance of moving away from our tired public conversation on ‘British identity’.

But even more im­portant than central government becoming more diverse is the des­perate need for deci­sion-making powers to be more effectively de­volved. What Windrush reveals is the chronic disposition of national politics to prioritise slo­gans and soundbites over practical policies. The “hostile environ­ment” will go down in history as one of the worst examples of polit­ical leaders trying to look and sound tough without any interest in what the adverse conse­quences might be for the individuals who might suffer as a result.

As Williams’ report puts it, “both policy makers and operational staff lost sight of people the department had a duty to protect”. Of course, when it tran­spired that people who were legally resident in the UK were being de­ported and discriminat­ed against, there was rightly a national outcry, but these same “hostile environment” policies continue to make life a misery for countless peo­ple in our communities.

And when the deadline passes for EU citizens to register under the Set­tled Status scheme next year, there will be a new set of people who will have been here for years, contributing to our economy and society, and who will suddenly be­come liable to deporta­tion and discrimination.

So as we digest the full implications of the Windrush Lessons Learned review, we need to recognise both the moral failure and the political culture that makes that failure more likely. Of course, the ur­gent priority must be to make things right for those who have had their lives turned upside down. Then there must be reform of the Home Office and an end to the “hostile environment”.

But more than that, there must also be a se­rious reflection on how we can push power away from distant and indif­ferent Whitehall and down to the regional, city and local levels. Only then will we get the policies that reflect the real needs of people in our communities.

Marvin Rees says there must be serious reflections in the wake of the Windrush report. Photo by Ellie Pipe

Marvin Rees is the mayor of Bristol

This article was originally published in the Eastern Eye.

Main photo by Thomas Katan

Read more: ‘The Home Office is failing the Windrush generation again’

 

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