Windrush anniversary remembered by Prince Charles but one family say 'we've not achieved a thing'

22 June 2020, 16:50 | Updated: 22 June 2020, 16:51

The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, in 1948
The Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks, Essex, in 1948. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Prince Charles today sent a message of the nation's "debt of gratitude" to the Windrush generation on the 72nd anniversary of their landing in the UK, but one family told LBC today that the country "has not achieved a thing" since then.

The Prince of Wales spoke of the "debt of gratitude" the nation owes the Windrush generation as he described Britain's diversity as its "greatest strength".

In a video message posted on Clarence House's social media pages, Charles encouraged people to listen to and learn from one each other's stories.

The heir to the throne paid tribute to the Caribbean community's contribution to life in the UK, saying: "Today, as we honour the legacy of the Windrush generation and the invaluable contribution of black people in Britain, I dearly hope that we can continue to listen to each other's stories and to learn from one another."

He added: "The diversity of our society is its greatest strength and gives us so much to celebrate."

Monday 22 June marks 72 years since the Empire Windrush ship arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex, bringing around 500 people from Jamaica, at the invitation of the British government, to help rebuild the UK in the aftermath of the Second World War.

In the following two decades, up until the early 1960s, thousands of men, women and children headed to Britain's shores from the Caribbean.

However, the Windrush scandal of 2018 led to generations of people being wrongly detained or denied access to official documents, healthcare, work, housing benefits and pensions, despite living legally in the UK.

Some were even deported to countries where they had not lived since they were children.

A report into the scandal, published in March, found it was "foreseeable and avoidable", with victims let down by "systemic operational failings" at the Home Office.

The department demonstrated "institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness" towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation, the review found.

Monday marks the 72nd anniversary of the Windrush generation landing in Britain
Monday marks the 72nd anniversary of the Windrush generation landing in Britain. Picture: PA

However, the daughter of a Windrush victim told LBC's James O'Brien of the "appalling" treatment her elderly father has received from the government since the scandal was unearthed.

Clayton Barnes, who came to Britain in 1959, was not permitted to re-enter the UK for eight years after a holiday to Jamaica.

His daughter, Samantha, told LBC her father was not allowed to board the plane back to the UK and was told he had no status in the country.

"This we couldn't understand because he'd worked here all his life and he had a mortgage here, he got married here, I was born here," she said, explaining that she thought her father was joking at first.

She thought her father's story was an isolated case until the media highlighted the scandal and Labour MP David Lammy started a petition fighting for justice for those affected.

Samantha said she expected an apology by now, or for Windrush arrivals to be granted UK citizenship, but called the government's inaction "appalling."

"We've not achieved a thing, we're nowhere further on than we were two years ago when that situation arose."

Charles's message comes amid the Black Lives Matter protests throughout the country and the world in recent weeks, following the death of George Floyd in the US.

He said: "Today offers an opportunity to express the debt of gratitude we owe to that first Windrush generation for accepting the invitation to come to Britain and, above all, to recognise the immeasurable difference that they, their children and their grandchildren have made to so many aspects of our public life, to our culture and to every sector of our economy."

Meanwhile, London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on the government to learn from the suffering endured by the Windrush generation and end the "hostile environment" faced by immigrants in the capital.

In a statement, the mayor said ministers should help Londoners by increasing funding to the immigration sector and cutting its "extortionate" fees.

"Many of the Windrush generation and their families are still struggling to access the advice and support they need, and it is clear that too many Londoners are still being failed by an immigration system that is prohibitively expensive and simply not fit for purpose," he said.

"I'm proud that our funding is helping Londoners of all backgrounds to get the legal advice and support they need, but the government must end its hostile immigration policies now to ensure these Londoners can secure their future in our city."

Mr Khan's demand comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a new working group had been established to "right the wrongs" suffered by the Windrush generation.

Ms Patel said what was most needed now was action and she will chair the new Windrush Cross-Government Working Group with Bishop Derek Webley as part of the government's efforts to address the scandal.

The head of the NHS in England also hailed the "essential contribution" of the Windrush generation to the health service.

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said the "dedication and service" of staff from the Windrush generation has not always been "recognised, respected or rewarded."

Speaking from Windrush Square in Brixton, Sir Simon said: "Today not only marks an important moment for millions of families across the nation, but also for our health service.

"Many of those who came to this country shortly after the war, on ships such as the Windrush, helped nourish the NHS in its early years, and became an integral part of its success.

"So it's right to take a moment to look back at this contribution with pride, while also confronting the reality that their dedication and service has not always been recognised, respected or rewarded.

"Fast forwarding to today, there is increasing evidence that longstanding inequalities are now being magnified and worsened by the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on our black, Asian and minority ethnic patients, friends and colleagues.

"So Windrush Day this year has to serve not only as a reminder of our history, but as a catalyst for urgent action to tackle racism and discrimination wherever it is to be found."

Some Windrush campaigners feel not enough has been done to help them or their families out
Some Windrush campaigners feel not enough has been done to help them or their families out. Picture: PA

Prince Charles also highlighted the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the black community and expressed his sympathy to those who had lost loved ones.

He paid tribute to the doctors, nurses and others working on the front line and said people of African and Caribbean descent have been an "indispensable part" of the NHS since its beginning.

Charles said: "I know that the black community has been hit particularly hard by this pernicious virus.

"To those who have lost their loved ones in such heartbreaking circumstances, when it has been impossible for them to comfort their relatives in hospital, I can only convey my most profound sympathy.

"And to everyone on the front line who has been put under such intense pressure over the last three months and risen heroically to the unprecedented challenge, I want to say, on behalf of all of us, how inordinately proud we are of them and the way they carry out their onerous duties."

The prince quoted the work of Jamaican British poet James Berry, who sailed to the UK in 1949 inspired by the Windrush pioneers.

Charles said: "He never avoided the difficult issues of injustice in history, or in the present, but always sought for mutual understanding.

"His poem Benediction stresses the need for us truly to hear one another, and truly to see, and through so doing to understand."

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