Interview with Louise Lewis, education activist and NEU National Executive member (personal capacity)
What is the Windrush scandal?
The Windrush generation came over from the Caribbean to help rebuild Britain after World War II. People that came over were nurses, builders, doctors, amongst other professions. They came over legally, they were invited over, remained here, and built families here. The scandal broke when Theresa May came to power in 2017; she introduced a new hostile environment policy.
Many people were losing their jobs because they couldn’t prove their immigration status because they didn’t have the correct paperwork; they were being detained; they were losing their homes; and they were being threatened with deportation – some were deported!
It emerged that they [the government] destroyed all the landing cards of the people who came over. In my dad’s case, who was part of the Windrush generation, he put every effort into finding loads of paperwork, having to go to his doctors, trying to find school records etc.
There were financial barriers too; it cost £1,000 to apply for the correct permit to stay. If you didn’t have the right paperwork, which many didn’t, you’d be rejected and lose the fee, so it’s a lot of money to lose.
How do you think it fits in with the Tories’ approach to immigration right now?
It’s become worse with the rhetoric around asylum seekers, immigrants, and “small boats”. They still use legislation to deport people to the Caribbean. They use the UK Borders Act 2007, which allowed foreign nationals who were jailed for more than 12 months to be deported. It disproportionately
affected people from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean who were targeted. And in some cases, it wasn’t even just about whether you were born outside the UK.
If you were black, that would be enough. In 2020, there were twin brothers who were born in London and had never left the country but had committed an offence and they were threatened with deportation to two different Caribbean countries where they had no relatives whatsoever.
Has there been justice for the Windrush generation?
No, not everybody has received compensation. A lot of people have died since then. And the compensation scheme was mismanaged, and it has become an extension of the scandal.
It takes at least a couple of years for all the paperwork to be processed. In my dad’s case, he tragically died after six months of receiving his Windrush compensation. This was after years of suffering at the hands of this government, forced to sign on every other week in order to receive financial support. He had to actively apply for jobs, knowing that he could never be employed because he didn’t have the correct paperwork. If he didn’t, his benefits would be cut. The government introduced the Windrush Grant in order to raise awareness, but this was limited and has now been closed. So this is still an ongoing scandal.
Windrush is an example of the disregard for Black people by the British establishment. We need to demand justice – for the right to remain and British citizenship for the Windrush generation and their families, and for the right to asylum for all those who need it. Those who have been impacted by the Windrush scandal should be compensated, or their families if they have passed away. The government needs to be held to account through a public enquiry, led by trade unions and those affected.
Further to that, we need a fundamental change in the way in which society is run – we need socialism, where wealth and resources are publicly owned and democratically planned collectively by workers, young people, trade unions and communities in the interests of the majority.