The Windrush Scandal: the case for increasing BME participation in decision-making
The Windrush Scandal of 2018 shocked the nation. British Subjects who had moved predominantly from the Caribbean to the UK at a young age, were wrongly detained, deported and denied their legal rights. Despite having lived in the country for decades, people lost their jobs, homes and were unable to access life-saving services such as cancer treatment. It was not a surprise to the charities and law centres that had been supporting Windrush cases. The Caribbean community affected were also very aware of the issue. But it took the repeated reporting of high-profile cases in the media, coupled with campaigning by charities and individuals for the government to apologise and offer free biometric cards. A compensation scheme is currently being designed.
So why and how did ‘individual’ Windrush cases take so long to become a public scandal?
Local organisations that support Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people and provide a mechanism to raise concerns with local and national public bodies have lost capacity or shut completely. Race Equality Councils – a partnership between local communities, local government, and the former Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) – have not existed since the late 2000s. This removed a vehicle used to promote race equality locally and hold services to account.
And in 2010, a report by the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Sector Organisations (CEMVO) found that 45 per cent of the 173 BME organisations they surveyed had suffered cuts by local authority and other funders. Additionally, Legal Aid funding has been slashed by £1 billion over the past five years. The avenues and mechanisms BME people could use to challenge discrimination and unfair treatment have all but disappeared. To make matters worse, there are few influential national or local institutions that represent BME people, or that focus on racial discrimination.
Unfair treatment can erode trust; if government policy, despite what it claims, is clearly not working for everyone then the purpose of participation is not clear. But government policies – such as immigration policy and Austerity measures – have a disproportionate impact on BME groups compared to the White British population.
And we know that ‘traditional’ participation – voter registration rates and voting in elections – is lower for ethnic minorities than White groups. According to the Electoral Commission, 85% of white people were registered in 2015, whilst only 76% of the black population who were eligible to vote were on the electoral register. In the 2017 General Election, turnout among BAME voters is estimated to be 11 percentage points lower than the turnout among white voters. We need to see an increase in formal and informal participation of BME communities, at the local and national level.
The Race Disparity Audit – an initiative launched by the government in 2017 – is a good start to outlining where racial inequalities lie. It gathers data collected by government in one place and makes it available to the public. But it will require policy solutions that reduce these inequalities. This has the potential to legitimise the state and increase the participation of BME communities. Conversely, ethnic minority participation in policymaking would lead to better policy design that takes into account the needs of different groups and as a result to treat all citizens fairly.
The government should consult meaningfully with race equality organisations with regularity on issues of immigration and race and reflect that consultation in their policymaking. They should listen to a wider range of voices, including critical ones. If it doesn’t, another Windrush Scandal could be around the corner.