Some History Behind The Race and Immigration Construct

Race, Immigration and Housing – The Changing Policy Narrative after Windrush

Race has always been a contentious issue for the UK to reconcile. When you delve into the academic research, much can be found to extrapolate a narrative that weaves people of colour, the term race relations and its relationship to constructs of immigration as a “problem”.

The Colonial office in the 1930’s reported on the social situation in Cardiff and Liverpool stating the problems mixed race children, the offspring of war veterans from the colonies, and Black American solders, had in finding work, adequate accommodation and being treated equally. Many official reports of the time, speak of how to take action to prevent this social problem, assuming a negative future for these children.

The publicity given to the arrival of 417 Jamaicans on the Empire Windrush in May 1948 is in many ways similar to momentum of the publicity following the 2018 the Windrush Scandal, which now because of the resignation of the Home Secretary Amber Rudd over not being totally transparent about the implementation of a “hostile environment” at the home office which sought to repatriate the children of the Windrush generation who had not be naturalised and had archival evidence of their citizenship status destroyed.

Almost as soon as the HRT Empire Windrush docked in 1948, the debate about the implications of the growth of black settlement in the UK in relation to housing, employment, white hostility to blacks and cultural difference and the racial conflict became part of the nation’s discourse.

A point to note is that with Empire Windrush in 1948 and subsequent arrivals by groups of workers from the Caribbean helped focus attention on the number black immigrants and obscured the fact that at that time the majority of immigrants actually came from the Irish Republic, white commonwealth countries and other european countries.

The evolution of the debate in that post war era, led to the construction of race and immigration as being synonymous. With the focus of concern not being the arrival of the immigrant per se but the threats posed to British society and culture by undesirable immigrants. In 1955 ‘Our Jamaican Problem’ the British Pathe short news reel which can be seen on Youtube, gives the account of the then Mayor of Lambeth Cllr. White leading a deposition to the Colonial Office requesting more controlled immigration, because of the housing shortage which had over 10000 on Lambeth council’s waiting list.

Countless debates in the press, in parliament, with different agencies during the 1950’s centred on the two lines, immigration control and the prospects for race relations. The specific topics being, newly arrived immigrants, housing, employment, sexual relations and the possible conflicts in dance halls and places of entertainment.

1958 riots in Notting Hill and Nottingham are recognised amongst academics as a major influencing factor forcing the government to consider two issues:-

    1. the long term consequences of BME communities and their integration or non-integration into British society
    1. the possibility that conflicts around immigration could produce a racialisation of British politics

“….The cry of lynch the blacks!’ has been heard in the streets of Nottingham. All this has an ugly ring which should shake our complacency to its foundations. Why do these things happen? And why are they now happening here?” The Daily Telegraph 26th Aug 1958

1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act sees the beginning of a series of UK immigration legislation which limits the number of non whites who can enter the UK

The Labour party from 1962 -1965 began to articulate the dual strategy of maintaining and strengthening immigrations controls, while at the same time promoting the integration of immigrants already settled; with Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s white paper in 1965, arguing that controls needed to be supported by measures ‘to promote integration in the widest sense of the word, in terms of housing, health, education and everything that needs to be done to minimise the possible social disturbance arising from this social problem’

The first Race Relations Act in 1965 and 1968 had twin objectives:-

    • Setting up special bodies to deal with the problems faced by immigrants in dealing with racism, discrimination, social adjustment and welfare; and
    • helping to educate the population as a whole about race relations, and hence minimising the race conflicts developing in Britain as it had done in the United States.

The 1976 Race Relations Act saw the creation of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) a specific body with government funding and limited powers to investigate private and public bodies to ensure that equality opportunities and equality of access to employment.