Over 100 signatories, including Patrick Vernon OBE, former deputy London mayor Lee Jasper and survivors of the Windrush scandal, have accused the government-backed Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities of “ignoring” the atrocities wreaked by the Home Office, while colluding to “deny the experiences” of hundreds of Black British citizens who were unlawfully stripped of their rights to live and work in the UK.
Dr Sewell was widely condemned last week after the commission’s report on racial disparities review concluded that Britain was not an institutionally racist country and recommended teaching a “new story” of positivity around slavery.
“Your report is a dreadful attempt to rewrite history and denigrate it to a footnote. You are effectively colluding to deny experiences and existences with truth, so that the annals of history will once again favour the oppressors,” the campaigners’ letter reads.
“The origins of these injustices are steeped in historic legislation fuelled by people like Enoch Powell, Oswald Mosley and Margaret Thatcher, the latter of whom referred to this country becoming swamped.
“Do you think these injustices are imagined?
“People we know were denied lifesaving medical treatment, lost jobs and houses, were detained, removed and deported. People we know have died and large numbers are affected by ongoing trauma a trauma which is intergenerational.”
The Windrush Scandal is only mentioned twice throughout the 258-page document.
It noted that the scandal, which saw numerous Black people who immigrated from the Caribbean to Britain detained or deported under Conservative hostile environment policies, left this cohort feeling “rightly” let down but said “outcomes such as these do not come about by design, and are certainly not deliberately targeted”.
Addressing this point, the letter’s authors wrote: “The injustices meted out to the Windrush generation are well known. Why then is the only reference to the scandal in your report, a suggestion that those affected feel let down? Let down? You certainly have a way with words. Lives have been destroyed.”
The scandal is far from resolved, with the Home Office having paid out a total of just £62,000 to 36 people so far, around 3 per cent of claimants – out of a total possible compensation payout of £570m.
In a foreword to the report, Dr Sewell said some communities are haunted by historic racism and there was a “reluctance to acknowledge that the UK had become open and fairer”.
The academic, who is himself a descendant of the Windrush generation, concluded: “Put simply, we no longer see a Britain where the system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities. The impediments and disparities do exist, they are varied, and ironically very few of them are directly to do with racism.
“Beneath the headlines that often show egregious acts of discrimination, the Windrush scandal most recently, incremental progress is being made as our report has shown beyond doubt. Through focusing on what matters now, rather than refighting the battles of the past, we want to build on that progress.”
The letter was organised by leading immigration lawyer Jacqueline McKenzie, on behalf of McKenzie Beute and Pope & Centre for Migration Advice and Research’s Windrush Justice Project, who has provided legal representation for numerous people affected by the scandal.
The campaigners are now urging Dr Sewell, 62, to either amend the report or stand down.
“We believe that you must revisit your work and examine the data more closely, seek evidence from a wider variety of sources, consult experts in a credible way and start to draw conclusions based on the facts.
“If you cannot do that, then you might as well stand down from a commission that is meant to be investigating race and disparity.”
The 30 recommendations from the Windrush Lessons Learned Review by Wendy Williams should also be implemented as a matter of priority, the campaigners have said, which include engaging meaningfully with communities to develop policy.
Though the commission claims to have spoken to communities as part of its engagement, none of the Windrush campaigners or groups involved in the letter were contacted by Dr Sewell.
Ms Williams did not make a definitive finding of institutional racism in the Home Office, following her review into the Windrush scandal, but she expressed serious concern that its failings demonstrated an “institutional ignorance” and thoughtlessness towards race and history which “were consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism”.
In the report, the commission recognises the “wisdom” and lived experience of the Windrush generation and states this “needs to be framed into a message that speaks more about responsibilities, conflict resolution, and the building of bridges.”