As an MP much of my time was spent in debates in Parliament or immersed in casework, but there was also the opportunity of dipping into the fantastic library in the House of Commons, I therefore had time to read several accounts of our Windrush arrivals, and those that preceded them – I particularly enjoyed the Trevor Phillips book* where he interviewed and followed the lives of many individuals and their experiences.
When the SS Windrush arrived in the UK, many of the passengers faced discrimination and setbacks; but over the years many prospered through hard work, and re-built their lives in this country and created their own families.
Kensington has always had a connection with the Windrush generation – many settled locally and have brought their traditions to enrich our lives – The PepperPot Club is still the centre to many, and only last year we marked the death of its founder Pansy Jeffrey who set up the club to tackle loneliness, isolation and to make sure there was a centre where Caribbean and African older people were at home. In fact, HM the Queen visited twice to congratulate them their work in the community.
As such an embedded part of our local lives, I found it truly shocking that there was any confusion about their status – why did they need passports, many had worked their lives here, married, brought up their families and become part of their communities, not just in London but in many other cities across the UK.
From my experience dealing with casework, not having a passport was not a problem until employers were instructed to check the status of all of their employees.
Suddenly we all had to produce passports – we don’t have identity cards here in the UK, and yet the fact that you may have worked for an employer for many years suddenly counted for nothing? MPs were inundated as the rules tightened up. Long term employees having to prove their status, although they may have had a lifetime of schooling, had worked and “paid their stamp” suddenly they were being told they had no right to be here?
How could this be? We have fought against mandatory identity cards, and yet by the back door we are forced to have passports – for some people the cost of legal fees, gathering evidence and fighting with the Home office was too much. I can remember a case where a young woman had worked in a coffee shop for several years, and her manager confirmed that her work was perfectly satisfactory, but he was going to have to let her go, because she could not prove her “right to remain”
Another case where a Caribbean woman had come over here many years ago, but she had never “regulated” her status. However, her husband had decided to go off and travel and had found a new affair, leaving her destitute in this country with three children to support and no access to, or means of assistance – The poor woman was traumatised and I was fortunate that we met in a church, so that I could turn to the church to embrace her and help her with her immediate needs.
I am extremely relieved that the Home Secretary has responded so positively to this issue to support those who have been to school here, have contributed to our economy and brought up their families. I very much welcome this positive campaign.
These Windrush settlers and their families are very different to those immigrants who just seek to take advantage of our benefits system but have not contributed themselves to our Country.
The next step will be to sort through the processes in the Home Office so it is not “one size fits all” but that those who want to integrate and become full citizens of our country are made welcome, but those who have other intent are sent back.
* ‘Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi Racial Britain’ Trevor Phillips and Mike Phillips