My grandfather gave years of service in return for the opportunity for a better life – we must not let his generation down, writes Melantha Chittenden
When my grandfather boarded a ship to Britain, he along with hundreds of thousands of men, women and children between 1948 and 1971, became part of what is now known as the Windrush generation.
Asked here to fill gaps in the jobs market, this generation of immigrants were offered the opportunity of better lives. While often they were able to find jobs we cannot deny that their experiences here were difficult. In leaving home, they left behind families, communities and the lives they knew. It was not uncommon for them to encounter violence on Britain’s streets, to be banned from renting by racist landlords, or to face those famous door signs – No Irish, No Blacks, No dogs. And yet in the face of this racism, they stayed in service to our country, our hospitals, our schools, or like my grandfather, in service to our postal service. In doing so, they made this country what it is today. You only have to walk into any hospital in the country or even look to our parliament to recognise that.
Now, 70 years since the Windrush landed on our shores, it is not just those who boarded who have given service to our country, it is their children too, or in some cases, their children’s children.
Now, after great service to our country, we are seeing policies implemented that set the Windrush generation apart from every other British citizen, as if they are somehow lesser. In the past few weeks we have heard of people being told they cannot access life-saving cancer treatment unless they can cough up tens of thousands of pounds, the rates afforded to non-British citizens, we have heard of people losing their jobs on being ruled illegal immigrants by their employers and we have heard of people at risk of deportation. These stories – and the policies behind them – show a complete disregard for everything people like my grandfather gave to this country. When he boarded that ship I am sure he never in his wildest dreams could have imagined the opportunities he and his future family would be afforded, but I am also sure, he never imagined his fellow travellers would be subject to this treatment fifty years later.
While today Theresa May announced she has reversed her decision and will now meet with representatives of twelve Caribbean counties, it is her actions in the aftermath of that meeting that will show how much she and her government truly respect and value the service of the Windrush generation.
If she does not hold true to the promises made to the Windrush generation all those years ago she will be betraying all those who have given so much to our country. It is my hope that our government will fix this wrong, and provide the Windrush generation with the security and dignity they deserve.
Melantha Chittenden is National Chair of Labour Students. She tweets @Melantha___
Photo: By Bridge (F/O), Royal Air Force official photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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