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WINDRUSH AND THE NHS

It is strange that both the arrival of the HMT Windrush and the establishment of the National Health Service should have coincided in the same year, and even in the same summer of 1948. Or is it? I believe that both of these events mark a profound change in Britain, an historical turning of the tide.

The Windrush ship brought nearly 500 black West Indian migrants to work in Britain. They were just the first of many such migrants, later women as well as men, who made the same journey throughout the 1950s and 60s. They were encouraged to come in order to fill a shortage of labour in Britain following the end of the Second World War. They came to help with the reconstruction of our towns and cities, but also of our industries and commerce. Some came simply as labourers, but others were trained and skilled in various trades and professions.

It is worth noting that these black people were descendant of slaves, notoriously transported from Africa to the Caribbean islands in the 17th and 18th centuries to provide labour for the sugar and cotton plantations whose products were in such demand in Britain and Europe. That ought to strike us as remarkable, even incredible: that the descendants of black slaves, having at last been granted freedom by their white rulers, should now, a century later, be volunteering to come and live and work in the land of their former owners and masters! Had the regime of the white planters of Jamaica and Barbados been as brutal and uncaring as it is now claimed to have been, it would surely have left behind a legacy of hatred and fear amongst the blacks that would have dissuaded any of them from coming to live and work here in the very homeland of the whites.

But the need for such immigrant labour only went on increasing in the years after the arrival of the first passengers on the Windrush. Indeed, it has gone on increasing ever since, and even today we are dependent on immigrants to come and do everything for us from harvesting the fruit and vegetables, to staffing the NHS. In 2022, long-term immigration into the UK was estimated at 1.2 million, balanced by net migration of around 600,000. (That does not include people arriving in small boats across the English Channel, at around 35,000.) These people, arriving legally with visas, are here from all over the world to live and work with us and for us, sustaining our industries and services. Where would we be without them? Only look at the NHS: where would the NHS be without all those doctors and nurses of different colours and racial backgrounds?

What has happened to us – us white British, natives of these islands? Once upon a time in the 18th and 19th centuries we managed to find the gifts and the energy within ourselves to launch and develop an Industrial Revolution at home, and at the same time set out to colonise and rule 1/5th of the world. For the last of these achievements, we now of course receive nothing but shame and condemnation. But if our Imperial conquest and rule was so vile and oppressive, it is strange that so many of the people from all these nations, which apparently suffered so much under white British domination, are so willing, indeed eager, to come and make a life with us here in our homeland.

The facts is that in so many ways the British Empire was a blessing to the nations of the world fortunate enough to have come under our sway. We brought to so many peoples peace and justice, education and medicine, roads and railways, agricultural improvement and economic advancement. In most countries of the Empire, it was an educated and politically conscious elite that demanded and fought for independence, not the common people whose lives had been so greatly improved by the white man and his administration: they loved us.

But what has happened to us since then? In a peculiar way it is epitomised by the National Health Service, established in the very same year as the Windrush ship arrived. The NHS was the brain-child of Aneurin Bevan, Minister of Health in the post-war Labour Government. His model was the Tredegar Medical Aid Society, founded in Bevan’s hometown in 1890. With the help of local land-owners and companies, the Society was set up to provide free health care to all the inhabitants of the town in return for a contribution from the workers of a halfpenny per week. It was, and is, an inspiring model with which no-one could quarrel. But it has had one unfortunate consequence which could not be foreseen, and which it is difficult to undo: the consequence of a mentality of dependence and rights.

We have come to regard, not just medical care but care for all our needs, as human rights, which we can demand and depend on the Government to fulfil. More and more we expect the Government to save us from ill-health, physical and mental, poverty, starvation, unemployment, and almost any other of the hardships that once we had to avoid or alleviate by our own efforts and resources. It might be too harsh to say that we whites have become a lazy race, but we have certainly become more like children, dependent on our Nanny the State to look after us, rather than adult men and women responsible for standing on our own two feet.

It is ironical that a nation that is now accused of having tyrannised much of the world in the past is now ruled by a government in which only one of the four most senior posts is held by a white British man. We now depend on these children of the Empire, not only to come over and work for us, but even to govern us!

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