The Windrush scandal has raised questions on Britain’s attitudetowards immigrants
In the 1960s, hundreds of immigrants reached the United Kingdom from the West Indies, on the ship, the Windrush. They came to provide an essential service. Sadly, they were not properly integrated into the U.K. and recently many of them have been sent ‘home’, because, it was claimed, they were not recorded as U.K. citizens. This has become a major issue, and, fortunately, the British government has accepted that there is a problem, and that something must be done about it. That, though a good development, does not alter the problems, and the unhappiness, that many have suffered. The Windrush problem provides a good reflection of a major issue — the attitude towards immigrants in the U.K. Many of them are here because there is a need for the service which they provide. That is particularly true, for example, of the National Health Service, which depends greatly on people from overseas to fill many of its posts. The major question, however, concerns the negative attitudes to people of different races which many — not, of course, all — people in the U.K. demonstrate. For those of us who believe that people should be treated properly and with respect, regardless of their race or ethnic origin, that is depressing. Much of it, it must be said, derives from ignorance. In some parts of the country, there are very few people from different races, and the residents in those areas have no experience of them. The proportion of the population who are immigrants is in fact quite small — around 9% — but many people assume it is much greater, and therefore constitutes a threat. There is of course no excuse for that, but it goes some way to explain it. What can, and should, we do about this? First and foremost, we should recognise, and accept, that people deserve to be treated equally and with respect, whatever their ethnic origin. As part of the way of achieving this, we should recognise that something needs to be done about the level of ignorance that exists. In short, we should take steps to ensure that people are well informed and become conscious of the nature of people of many different ethnic groups. Much can, and should, be done in schools, but not only there. There is clearly a need for much wider efforts to ensure that people are properly informed. Politicians should play their part in this. The Windrush scandal was a graphic reminder that things have gone badly wrong, and it should provide a strong incentive to ensure that nothing like it happens again. If we require proof of the importance of this, we need only note the huge problems that many people have faced because of the failure to ensure that their position in the U.K. was clear.
The writer is an Emeritus Fellow and former Vice President of Wolfson College, Cambridge University, U.K.