The worst affected lost their jobs, homes, liberty and their very right to live in the UK, the place they had every reason to regard as ‘home’.
Was this all just because of a lack of paperwork? To what extent did this vulnerability arise from the fact that the UK’s Governments had failed to make clear to British subjects of Caribbean heritage exactly what they needed to do to remain safe and secure in Britain? And, above all, why did members of the Windrush generation and their children find themselves so particularly vulnerable? Is the simple answer, as many scholars and activists would assert, that they were never welcome in a Britain that was rife with racial prejudice?
The Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) at the School of Advanced Study has just been awarded a research grant by the University of London’s Convocation Trust to explore these questions in partnership with existing clusters of expertise in this field.
The project, ‘Nationality, Identity and Belonging: An oral history of the “Windrush Generation” and their relationship to the British State, 1948–2018’, will have a full-time researcher in charge of forging collaborations with archives, museums, academic and non-academic experts and Caribbean heritage community groups, coordinating a ‘day of evidence’, and producing a report by 2020. The ‘day of evidence’ will collect stories from UK residents of Caribbean descent, whose parents came to the UK in response to Britain's invitation to help rebuild the country in the decades after the Second World War.
Over the last year, the Home Office has come under intense criticism for its handling of the 2018 Windrush scandal, which involved a series of wrongful detentions and deportations. Some of the UK’s most vulnerable inhabitants found themselves trapped by the hugely complex layers of citizenship and nationality legislation passed between 1962 and 1981, which had gradually removed the right of ‘Commonwealth citizens’ to enter and settle in Britain.
‘The Windrush scandal was a national scandal’, said Professor Philip Murphy, director of the ICWS. ‘We urgently need to understand how and why it happened, and the institute wants to play its part in seeking to answer this question. But we have to bear in mind that some of the most important work in this field has taken place outside the university sector.’
‘As such, the project will be framed around carefully building important strategic partnerships, particularly with the Caribbean heritage communities. And it will allow us, in turn, to pose some tough questions to British officialdom. Overall, the ICWS will be working to contribute to the rich and varied work being done on multifaceted aspects of histories of Caribbean communities in the UK.’
Material gathered from the project will be disseminated online in the form of a report in May 2020, together with the publication of a full transcript of the ‘day of evidence’.