On 7 July 2023, the House of Lords will hold a debate on the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation. The debate has been tabled by parliamentary under secretary at the home office, Lord Murray of Blidworth.

1. Windrush Day

1.1 Background

On 21 June 1948, British troopship HMT Empire Windrush laid anchor at Tilbury Docks, with her passengers disembarking the following day. The Empire Windrush carried hundreds of passengers from the Caribbean who, alongside people from other parts of the Commonwealth, came to the UK to fill post-war labour shortages. The ‘Windrush generation’ became the symbolic shorthand for people who came to work or join family in the UK between 1948 and 1973, particularly from Caribbean countries. Further information is provided in the House of Lords Library briefing, ‘UK Windrush Day: Update on the Windrush scheme’ (13 July 2021).

In 2018, the government announced a national Windrush Day would take place on 22 June each year to pay tribute to the Windrush generation and their descendants. In the same year, the government established the Windrush Commemoration Committee, chaired by Baroness Benjamin (Liberal Democrat). In 2021, the committee commissioned the sculptor Basil Watson to create the National Windrush Monument. This was unveiled at London Waterloo Station on 22 June 2022. The government also announced the establishment of the Windrush Day grant scheme in 2018. This was intended to fund projects to mark Windrush Day each year.

In 2018, at the same time the government was establishing national Windrush Day and the Windrush Day grant scheme, it was also putting in place measures intended to address the injustices suffered by people affected by the ‘Windrush scandal’. This is discussed further in section 2.1.

1.2 Windrush Day 2023

The 2023 Windrush Day grant scheme, funding events to mark the 75th anniversary, was launched on 19 January 2023. The government confirmed the total amount of funding available for the 2023 grant scheme would be raised to £750,000. In 2022, the total amount of funding available was £500,000. The government also said it would provide £50,000 to develop educational material on the contributions of the Windrush generation and their descendants, available on the government’s National Windrush Monument website.

On 22 June 2023, the government confirmed 45 community projects would receive funding as part of that year’s grant scheme. It also announced the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities would be working with the charity Speakers for Schools to organise a series of in-person and virtual talks by well-known figures connected to the Windrush generation. This would include the musician and celebrity chef, Levi Roots; the mathematician, Professor Nira Chamberlain; and the actor and author, Paterson Joseph. The government said it was planning other events, including a flag-raising ceremony for Windrush veterans on Armed Forces Day on 24 June 2023 in Birmingham.

In addition to the plans announced by the government, The Royal Mint has released a commemorative Windrush 50p coin. The Royal Mail has also released a Windrush stamp. On the day of the anniversary, King Charles III hosted a service at Windsor Castle. The King has also commissioned 10 portraits of individual members of the Windrush generation which are being exhibited in the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh.

2. Windrush lessons learned review and compensation scheme

2.1 Windrush scandal

In 2018, at the same time the government was establishing national Windrush Day and the Windrush Day grant scheme, it was also putting in place measures intended to address the injustices suffered by people affected by the ‘Windrush scandal’. Under the 1971 Immigration Act, people who had arrived from Commonwealth countries before January 1973 were given the “right of abode” in the UK. However, in many cases the government did not provide documents or keep records confirming this status. In 2018, the National Audit Office published a report which found that people who had been living in the UK as settled residents for decades under the 1971 act had been adversely affected by immigration legislation created by successive UK governments. Specifically, people from the Windrush generation who lacked UK passports or sufficient documentation to prove their right to reside reported instances of detention; deportation; loss of employment; homelessness; loss of access to healthcare and benefits; and being unable to return if they left the UK. This was referred to as the ‘Windrush scandal’.

From 2018 onwards, successive home secretaries have acknowledged the Windrush generation had been treated unfairly and have apologised. In April 2019, the government introduced the Windrush compensation scheme, which is intended to provide compensation for those affected by the Windrush scandal.

The government also commissioned the then HM Inspector of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services Wendy Williams to conduct a review of the lessons to be learned from this scandal, focusing on events from 2008 onwards. Ms Williams published her review in March 2020. It criticised the Home Office, describing the injustices suffered by members of the Windrush generation as “foreseeable and avoidable”. The report made 30 recommendations, including changes intended to improve the culture of the Home Office and protect people who may be affected by the immigration system. Following the report’s publication, the then government accepted all 30 of the recommendations in full.

2.2 Implementation of the Williams review

In March 2022, the government published a follow-up review, also conducted by Wendy Williams, into the implementation of her recommendations by the Home Office. While Ms Williams commended the general approach taken by the Home Office in implementing her recommendations, she said more progress needed to be made. This included the appointment of a migrants’ commissioner, whose role would be to speak up for migrants and those affected by the immigration system.

On 26 January 2023, the home secretary, Suella Braverman, announced that the government would not be implementing three of the recommendations of the Williams review. These recommendations were to:

  • run a programme of reconciliation events with members of the Windrush generation (recommendation 3)
  • appoint a migrants’ commissioner (recommendation 9)
  • review the remit and role of the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) (recommendation 10)

On the same day, Ms Braverman set out further details of the government’s updated response to the Williams review in a letter to the chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee. For example, she said that, while the Home Office was not intending to proceed with a programme of reconciliation events, it had held “over 200 public engagement and outreach events across the country to raise awareness of the Windrush schemes”. On the appointment of a migrants’ commissioner, she said:

The department believes that there are opportunities to effectively fulfil the spirit of this recommendation through continued review of our external stakeholder management. This will be aided by the work of our community and stakeholder engagement hub, who work tirelessly to improve how the department engages with its stakeholders.

Responding to this announcement, Wendy Williams said:

I am disappointed that the department has decided not to implement what I see as the crucial external scrutiny measures, namely my recommendations related to the migrants’ commissioner (recommendation 9) and the ICIBI (recommendation 10), as I believe they will raise the confidence of the Windrush community, but also help the department succeed as it works to protect the wider public, of whom the Windrush generation is such an important part.

Ms Williams repeated these criticisms during a House of Commons Home Affairs Committee one-off oral evidence session on the Windrush scandal on 8 March 2023.

On 16 June 2023, the shadow minister for work and pensions, Vicky Foxcroft, tabled a written question asking the home secretary what assessment she had made of the implications for the Home Office’s implementation of the Williams review. On 26 June 2023, minister of state at the Home Office, Robert Jenrick, responded saying the government remained “steadfast in [its] commitment to do everything in [its] power to right the wrongs” suffered by the victims of the Windrush scandal. Mr Jenrick also said the government had made changes to the Windrush compensation scheme intended to ensure those affected were able to receive compensation. This scheme is discussed in section 2.3 of this briefing.

On 19 June 2023, the Guardian reported unnamed sources in the Home Office had told the paper the government intended to close the Home Office transformation directorate. According to the paper, this directorate was responsible for implementing the changes to the Home Office recommended by the Williams review. The government has not made any statement concerning the closure of the transformation directorate.

2.3 Windrush compensation scheme

The Home Office has been criticised for its handling of the Windrush compensation scheme. In November 2021, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a report which found that the majority of people who had applied as part of the Windrush compensation scheme had not yet received any compensation. The committee recommend that the scheme should transfer to an independent organisation. In its response to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee’s report, published in February 2022, the government rejected this proposal, arguing the Home Office should continue to operate the scheme.

In March 2023, the Institute for Government published a report on the compensation scheme which found, in June 2022, 71% of the claims awaiting a final offer had been waiting for more than six months. By March 2023, the Institute for Government found this figure had fallen to 38%.

In June 2022, the Home Office reported that it had paid claimants a total of £62.72mn as part of the Windrush compensation scheme, in response to 1,681 successful claims. The Home Office also reported that, in May 2023, of the 6,348 claims received, 2,138 had yet to have a final decision. In an interview with ITV news on 21 June 2023, the home secretary defended her department’s handling of the scheme, saying:

[…] we have simplified the application process. We’ve made big changes to the claim form, for example, to make it simpler and easier to use. We’ve held hundreds of face-to-face events with hundreds of thousands of people over the last few years to really hear from them at the grassroots level what their experience is going through the process.

3. Debates and oral questions in the House of Lords

3.1 Question for short debate

On 19 January 2023, the House of Lords debated the preparations for the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation. Baroness Benjamin, who tabled this question for short debate, praised the contribution of the British Caribbean people who came to the UK in 1948. She also spoke about her own experience coming to England as a 10-year-old in 1960. She asked the government what action it was taking to ensure that the experiences of the Windrush generation were taught in schools. She also told the House that she had written to the prime minister asking him to support the full implementation of the Williams review.

Several members speaking in this debate raised concerns about the administration of the Windrush compensation scheme. For example, Lord Davies of Brixton (Labour) argued delays faced by claimants in receiving compensation was a “scandal”. Lord Davies argued the compensation scheme should no longer be administered by the Home Office and should instead be run by an independent organisation. Lord Kamall (Conservative) also asked the government what it was planning to do to clear the backlog of compensation claims.

Parliamentary under secretary of state at the department for levelling up, housing and communities, Baroness Scott of Bybrook, told the House the government was committed to supporting projects to celebrate the contribution of the Windrush generation. Baroness Scott said this included funding made available through the Windrush Day grant scheme, which she said would include funding for education projects. She also said the Home Office was continuing to make “real progress” in implementing the recommendations of the Williams review. On the issue of the compensation scheme, she told the House the Home Office had made changes intended to make it easier for people to make claims. She said this included the introduction of a redesigned form. She also said more people in the Home Office had been allocated to the teams processing these claims.

3.2 Oral question

In an oral question on 24 May 2023, Baroness Berridge (Conservative) asked the government what progress it had made in its plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation. Baroness Scott repeated the government’s announcement that the Windrush Day grant scheme had been increased to £750,000. She also said that the government was progressing with plans for projects across various departments to mark the day. Baroness Benjamin said that she had not received a reply from the prime minister to her February letter, in which she had suggested that he host a reception at No 10 to celebrate Windrush Day. She asked “can the minister assure the House that the prime minister is intending to demonstrate that he cares about the Windrush 75th anniversary?”. Baroness Scott said she could not comment on the prime minister’s diary but repeated that the government planned a series of events to mark the anniversary.

4. Read more

This briefing was updated on 3 July 2023 to include the government’s response to Vicky Foxcroft’s written question tabled on 16 June 2023.

Cover image from Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Windrush Commemoration Committee and Kemi Badenoch MP, OGL, on Wikimedia Commons.