Raising the Windrush flag: Celebrating a generation's immense contribution


For Windrush Day (22 June), Rethink Mental Illness trustee, Garrick, discusses the immense contribution made to this country by the Windrush Generation and the implications of Home Office policies to collective mental health.  

The HMT Empire Windrush ship arrived at Tillbury Docks on 22 June 1948 carrying hundreds of Caribbean migrants, many of whom were veterans of the Second World War, answering the call for help from the UK as the new National Health Service (NHS) began to recruit staff after unsuccessful recruitment campaigns in Britain.

The Windrush generation not only came to work in the NHS, but they also worked in other sectors in the UK to rebuild this country after the war. It has been rightly said by others, that the Windrush Generations laid the foundations for Black British society as we know it. Their contribution is as significant as it is historical; Windrush history is British history and, as such, must be recorded, acknowledged and celebrated. 

  • Raising the Windrush flag offers pride and inspiration for current and future generations

This year will be the 76th anniversary that we commemorate the Windrush Generation. Over 200 organisations across the UK will be raising the Windrush flag on Windrush Day in celebration.

They will be flown in hospitals and other NHS bodies to mark Windrush Day and at schools, universities, local councils and other buildings across the country. The Windrush flag will also be flown in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and other Caribbean nations.

Commemorating this Windrush history and raising the Windrush flag offers pride and inspiration for current and future generations.

As contributors to Windrush 100 have said: “It’s vital to recognise the contribution of the Windrush Generation and their part in our shared British history” and “the Windrush story explains why our multi-ethnic society looks as it does today. We want everyone – in schools and among the wider public too – to get the chance to learn about this important moment in our shared history.” 

Home Office policies and impact on mental health

While we remember this Windrush history, we must also remember the harm caused by the Home Office to the Windrush generation and their successors.

The Windrush victims lost jobs, incomes and benefits, housing and access to public services as a result of the Home Office’s hostile environment policies and the resulting scandal. There are still calls for the government to speed up access to the Windrush Compensation Scheme and other redress for the victims.

Research published in May and undertaken by a team of researchers from University College London, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics has shown a strong link to poor mental health within Black Caribbean and other minoritised ethnic groups due to the hostile environment policies and the media coverage of the Home Office scandal.

  • We cannot underestimate the mental harm caused to the Windrush victims

The findings show that “political policies can produce mental health inequalities, and can also perpetuate existing inequalities, and make them worse” and that “mental health was affected at a population level.”

The researchers say that their findings have implications for policy makers in two ways:

  1. “For those directly affected, this research is a call for strategies to undo the health injustices associated with the Windrush scandal".
  2. “Policy makers should consider not just the immediate expense of any new policy, but the future costs of any mental health resources which might be needed as a result of their decisions. Governments need to carry out impact assessments to see if their policies will affect mental health, either positively or negatively – and they should aim to reduce inequalities related to ethnicity or any other protected characteristic.”

We cannot therefore underestimate the mental harm caused to the Windrush victims, their friends, families and others as a result of the Home Office scandal.

And so, this 22 June, we will continue to advocate for justice and commemorate the contribution of the Windrush Generation. We will shine a light on and honour their individual and collective historical accomplishments. We will raise the Windrush flag.