The Windrush scandal shows why we need a change of direction

06 Jun 2018
The Windrush generation scandal which has rocked the government has already obliged Prime Minister Theresa May to apologise and Amber Rudd to resign as home secretary.
Within this context, a recent written statement on immigration from the government represented a U-turn.
Only weeks before, when I called for a statutory instrument to guarantee the rights and status of the Windrush generation — all those who arrived here from the Commonwealth before 1973 — ministers said this was unnecessary.
Now new Home Secretary Sajid Javid says he will make generous offers to people who have been here a long time and to their children, showing that public pressure — and the strong stance of the Labour opposition — has forced the government to act on this issue.
Millions of people in Britain have been appalled at how the government could have treated with such cruelty so many people who had travelled here legally, lived here for decades and were certain they  were British.
The scandal meant that people were refused medical treatment — even when they were suffering from cancer, were refused benefits that they were entitled to including housing benefit — so some were made homeless, or lost their jobs when a new owner of their company insisted on documentation they had never had.
Some were locked up in immigration detention centres and still more were refused entry back into this country, when they had only gone to the Caribbean for a holiday.
In light of such harsh treatment by the government we will need to both wait to see the scale of this generosity on interpreting visa restrictions — especially because of the continued commitment of many in the Cabinet to the “hostile environment” policy — and keep up the pressure.
Indeed, even now there is still no concrete word on compensation from the government — only consultation — despite the fact they first mentioned the issue some weeks ago.
This is while people are still suffering unemployment, homelessness and refusal of NHS care.
The government should be announcing right now what immediate action it is taking to help victims and offer full compensation for the losses experienced.
We also need to hear more from the government on the issue of deportations as it has been  reluctant to come forward with full information about what has happened and is happening. It should tell us what has happened to any of the Windrush generation who have been put in immigration detention and also how many were bullied into so-called voluntary removals.
The Windrush generation and the public deserve the truth. We need a full and open investigation into the entire scandal and the government cannot keep denying or drip-feeding us the information.
From the leaked deportation targets, to the “hostile environment” policy, it’s time the government not only came clean about what happened to those affected, but also for a change of direction on immigration policy and how the issue of immigration is dealt with in the public discourse.
This scandal relates to how sections of society have been talking about immigration. More accurately, it relates to how too many politicians, too many newspapers and too many commentators have been talking about immigration.
Too many people who have been using negative language and promoted negative views should have known better — including May.
A number of those same politicians, newspapers and commentators now pay tribute to the contribution of the Windrush generation. They are right to do so, but the test will be in whether these people start to discuss migration in a more responsible way and will support an end to  the failed “hostile environment” approach.
The narrative that underlay the Windrush scandal was an increasingly negative view of migration and it was because of the rise and rise of the “hostile environment.”
The Windrush generation did not need papers to claim their rights to NHS treatment or benefits until that policy was introduced under May.
This policy made them unemployed or homeless or deprived them of their pension. It was this policy that led to the detention of some, may have helped deport others and certainly assisted the refusal of re-entry to people who had the right to be here. This is all a product of this policy.
Some ministers have said it is regrettable that people weren’t given documentation, but in 1948 who had documentation? Most people had little beyond their birth certificate. Items like passports and drivers’ licenses were almost unheard of then for the whole population.
The new situation was not created by lack of documentation. It was created by the new insistence on documentation for some people, under “hostile environment” instructions.
The Windrush generation are really the first victims of this policy but, unless there is a change of approach, they won’t be the last.
Labour is proposing an end to the “hostile environment” which was always politically motivated, never a product of analysis of our economic our social needs.
A Labour government will treat people with dignity and humanity, and will remove all obligations on landlords, employers and others to enact it and end this obligation on everyone else too.
We want nurses to nurse, teachers to teach, jobcentre workers to help people into work and border guards to be border guards.
As in so many other areas of public policy, it’s time for a change when it comes to the government’s failing approach to immigration.
Labours policies will always be based on our values. So our immigration policies will be based on treating people respectfully. And our system of fair and reasonable management of migration will be based on prioritising jobs and prosperity.

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