Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the arrival in the UK of the Empire Windrush and her 492 passengers. This is an important cultural landmark in our history because it represents a turning point in how the United Kingdom viewed the Commonwealth and a recognition that Commonwealth citizens could provide a valuable contribution to our society.
We are living in unprecedented times and are all aware of the disproportionate impact that Covid 19 is having on Black & Ethnic Minority (BAME) communities across the UK. We are also all aware that a large proportion of those working on the frontline are from BAME backgrounds.
In April 2020, the First Minister launched an urgent investigation to understand the reasons for the higher risk from Covid-19 to BAME communities, and established the BAME Covid-19 Advisory Group.
The Advisory Group also included two subgroups – the first focused on a Covid 19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool which was launched on 26th May and has been implemented starting with the NHS and social care sector.
The second subgroup, looked at the socio-economic factors which might have led to members of BAME communities disproportionately contracting and dying from Covid-19.
Their report launches today and reveals a number of key socio-economic and environmental risk factors.
Due to the impact of Covid 19 it is not possible to gather in person with the Windrush Elders as I have done in the past. Nevertheless, I am pleased that this morning the First Minister and I could mark this important day through an online event, part-funded by the Welsh Government, in partnership with Windrush Cymru Elders and organised by Race Council Cymru and their partners. I am also delighted that, as part of today’s celebrations, Welsh Government is able to fund refreshments that will be delivered to Windrush Elders, in their homes today.
The Windrush landing followed the passing of the British Nationality Act 1948, at a time when Britain was struggling to recover from the devastation of the Second World War. It was recognised then that Britain needed the assets and strengths of Commonwealth citizens to help rebuild our society. The British Nationality Act made a clear invitation for individuals to come to Britain to make a new home.
Despite this, we know that many of the Windrush generation arrived in Britain to hostility and disappointment at how they were received. The Welsh Government is privileged to have so many Commonwealth citizens, as part of our community, and we want you to know how much we value, respect and celebrate the contributions of Windrush and Commonwealth migrants to Wales.
In particular, we recognise the enormous contribution the Windrush Generation has made to our health services in Wales. The NHS, like so much of post-war Britain, was built by migrants and could not have survived in its current form without them. There were recruitment campaigns for nurses in Malaysia, Mauritius and elsewhere in the British Empire, as well as the Caribbean, and we recognise wholeheartedly this wide history as an important part of Welsh history.
We pay tribute to all members of the Commonwealth and Windrush migrants who have lost their lives during this pandemic. I send my heartfelt condolences to all families that have lost loved ones.
This contribution makes the Windrush scandal all the more distressing. A great injustice was done to Commonwealth citizens who were made to feel like they were not British. We are continuing to urge the UK Government to do more to ensure Commonwealth citizens have proper documentation and receive compensation where it is due. I have written to the Home Secretary again to urge them to implement the findings of Wendy Williams’ Windrush Lessons Learned report, which was published at the end of March 2020. This report highlights the deep cultural change needed within the Home Office to ensure bureaucratic processes and complex systems do not prevent the Home Office from recognising the individual who need support. We expect to see more work done with the Windrush generation in Wales to ensure public authorities can rebuild relationships with Commonwealth citizens as quickly as possible.
We have contacted the Home Office on numerous occasions in relation to Wales’s specific Windrush Taskforce applications and compensation cases but we are yet to receive a satisfactory response. We continue to encourage stakeholders to update us if the system is not working as intended.
We have entered a new and important era in relation to race relations, the tragic death of George Floyd in America, and subsequent international response, has highlighted the harsh reality that racism and discrimination are still very much a part of everyday life for so many. The Windrush generation has been experiencing this for many years and we must end this treatment.
At the start of March this year I discussed, with the Wales Race Forum, the development of a Race Equality Action Plan, which will set us on an ambitious journey to advance race equality in Wales.
I am determined to drive change in Wales, and I have asked my officials to set up urgent meetings to progress the development of a Race Equality Action Plan. This will involve robust consultation with BAME communities across Wales. These voices need to be heard so that the plan is owned by everyone and will bring real change.
Today we pay tribute to the contributions made to Wales by the Windrush generation, as well as the other migrant communities who came before and after. We thank them for their efforts and sacrifices over the generations.
As a nation we must continue to promote and safeguard our principles of understanding, inclusivity and equality for all.