Shaun Bailey is a Conservative member of the London Assembly.
Windrush Day is a special anniversary for me. 70 years ago, HMT Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks and marked the beginning of one of the most significant contributions to British life in the last century. The passengers on board this ship came with ambition, skills, and a desire to play a part in the UK’s reconstruction after World War Two. On Windrush Day, it is more important than ever to shine a light on what made this event so integral to the Britain we live in today.
My mother travelled to London from Jamaica in 1964 without her own passport. My grandfather fought for the Allies in World War Two and felt honoured to arrive in our country as British. To my relatives, the origin of their birth was inconsequential – they identified themselves as British and celebrated British values as their own. I am proud to have a personal connection to this part of our history.
There will undoubtedly be numerous articles published today that celebrate this part of our heritage. There will probably be others that highlight the continuing grief and upset arising from the Windrush controversy. Both are important in different ways.
Over recent months, we have witnessed long-term residents unable to produce documentary evidence of their right to live and work in the UK, leading to doubt over their eligibility to access healthcare, pensions, and benefits. This was a Home Office error that led to significant ramifications for those affected.
The Government’s response could have been swifter, but it was robust. They have established an advice helpline, offered help to residents to obtain relevant documentation, and set up a compensation scheme for those affected. This will go a long way to try to right this wrong, although the key thing to ensure is that it never happens again.
It has taken an incident like this to remind ourselves of what should be celebrated as well as what injustices we still face. Between January-December 2017, the black unemployment rate was nine per cent, compared to four per cent for those from a white British background. This gets even worse when considering youth unemployment which was 23 per cent and 11 per cent respectively. Those from a black ethnic background are also significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Young black people at nine times more likely to go to prison in England and Wales than their white peers, and overall, black people make up 12 per cent of the prison population yet only three per cent of the population in England as a whole.
These statistics remind us that we have some distance to go. I am a Conservative because the Party prides itself on independence, self-reliance, and personal achievement. I also believe that equality of opportunity lays at the very heart of our philosophy. We cannot be satisfied with anything less.
Today is a celebration of one of Britain’s greatest success stories: the contribution of all immigrants to our economy, our culture, and our politics. It should be a yearly celebration of what the arrival of Windrush was really about; a new beginning, social and cultural growth, and aspiration for anyone who wants a better life for their family. However, it also stands as a timely reminder for us all about the injustices that are yet to be overcome. I am up for the challenge and will help the Prime Minister to achieve her vision of a country that works for everyone.