West Indian Immigration to Britain: 1948: The Empire Windrush

It’s seventy years since the Empire Windrush arrived in Britain, carrying hundreds of West Indian immigrants, and the event has come to symbolize the start of the first wave Commonwealth migration to the United Kingdom.

How did it all start?

The Empire Windrush was a troopship, commandeered from the Germans at the end of WW2. In mid 1948 it was carrying home a number of British servicemen from Australia via Mexico and various stops in the Caribbean. It stopped at Jamaica to fetch West Indian Servicemen home from leave when the Captiain, realising he had a lot of empty births, put an advert in a local paper offering passage to Britain for half the usual price.

Empire Windrush.jpg

When the Windrush docked at Tillbury in Essex on 21st June 1948, there were 1027 passengers on board, 802 of them from the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica, and about half of these were migrants, 492 being the figure which is usually cited. Many of these were ex-RAF servicemen who had been stationed in Britain during the war, who came to take advantage of the better work and employment opportunities in the U.K.

A mixed reception in the U.K. 

The Windrush wasn’t the first ship to bring numbers of Caribbean migrants to the U.K, the Ormonde and Almanzora had arrived the previous year carrying smaller numbers), and there were also already settled communities of West Indians and Indians in Britain’s larger port cities, but this was an unprecedented ‘one-off’ influx of non-white immigration in terms of scale.

Clement_Attlee
Clement Atlee

The press appeared very welcoming, with headlines such as ‘Welcome home to the sons of Empire’ (The London Evening Standard) and ‘Cheers for the men of Jamaica’ (The Daily Mail), with reportage focusing on the positive contribution Caribbean immigrants were making to help build postwar Britain, which seems fair enough given that a high proportion were skilled tradesmen with highly marketable employment skills.

However, Clement Attlee’s government was thrown into something of a panic: and officials even examined the possibility of turning the ship back! There were letters of opposition to allowing the ship to dock, but Attlee defended the decision and the principle that colonial subjects of whatever race or colour should be freely admissible to the United Kingdom’.

The reality on the ground wasn’t especially welcoming: 

Sam King, who was later to become the first black mayor of Southwark, foud that he was longer treated with the same respect that he received while serving in the R.A.F. during the war: ‘What you come back here for?’ The War’s over.’ He remembered.

Migrants also found housing and employment barred to them: ‘They tell you it is the mother country, you’re all welcome, you all British…[but] when you come here, you realise you’re a foreigner and that’s all there is to it.

 

Where did the Migrants settle?

Mainly around Clapham and Brixton, which have since become centers of black British culture.

What is the legacy of the Windrush?

The ‘Windrush Generation’ has become synonymous with the ‘first wave’ of Commonwealth migration to the U.K, but it has only been celebrated since the 50th anniversary when it became a widely recognized symbol of multicultural Britain.

Sources:

Analyse two ways in which migration has affected household structures (10)

How to get full marks for a 10 mark ‘item’ question in sociology A-level.

This question cam up as part of the families and households option in A level sociology paper 2 (topics in sociology), June 2017.

Item C

In the 1950s, most immigrants into the United Kingdom came from Commonwealth countries such as India and Jamaica. More recently, many immigrants have come from European countries such as Poland. May immigrants are young adults seeking work. 

These migration patterns have affected household structures. 

Applying material from Item C, analyse two ways in which migration patterns have affected household structures in the United Kingdom. 

Answer (hints and tips)

Point one – has to be about the variation in Caribbean and Indian household structures… quite easy I think… Of course you could talk about both separately.

Point two – asks that that you talk about more recent structures, drawing on Polish immigration.

What kind of household structures could you discuss?

  • Number of people in the household – so single person, or multiple occupancy.
  • The relationships between the people in the household – married or not? Friends or families? Ages?
  • Gender roles in those households – domestic division of labour
  • Numbers of adults and children (e.g. single person households)
  • Matrifocal/ Patrifocal household
  • The relationships between people in one household and other households (maybe a useful way to demonstrated analysis)
  • Generational variations…

So a potential answer might look like this:

Point one – focusing on Caribbean and Indian migration

  • Caribbean households – 60% single parent families
  • Link to male unemployment/ racism in society
  • matrifocal households
  • Contrast to Indian households
  • Higher rate marriage/ lower rate divorce
  • But later generations – divorce more likely
  • Discuss Mixed race couples

Point two – focusing on European migration

Almost certainly less you can say about this! But as long as you’ve made the most of the previous point, you could easily get into the top mark band… 

  • Younger age structure
  • More likely to have children and be married
  • Higher proportion of married families with children
  • Probably more shared-households – younger people without children sharing.

Commentary

This is a pretty straightforward question on a sub-topic within demography on how migration has affected family life in the U.K. so absolutely fair enough to ask it as a question.

However, it does concern me that the AQA’s online specification explicitly directs teachers to really dated material, and most of the text books focus on this, while this exam question expects students to know about recent events relating to migration and the family which are neither on their online specification or in any of the major A level text books.

I think the AQA needs to relax it’s focus on that really dated material (the classic question on ‘Functionalism and the Family’ in the same paper is a good example of how students are expected to know in-depth this stuff from the 1950s) if it’s going to demand a more contemporary focus.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a contemporary focus, just all that dated material that was such a waste of time students learning (like Pahl and Volger FFS), just in case it came up. This is a real problem because it makes sociology lose credibility, undermining the discipline.

Critics might say this problem emerges from the fact that whoever sets the agenda for the AQA families and households syllabus is something of a timeserver who can’t be bothered to update the specification appropriately by cutting down all the dated material. They might cite as evidence for this the fact that the specification hasn’t really changed significantly in 30 years.

Full answer from the AQA 

Below is an example of an abbreviated (by me) marked response to this question, which achieved a top band-mark, 10/10 in fact!

The example is taken from the 2017 Education with Theory and Methods Paper (paper and mark schemes available from the AQA website).

The Question with Item 

10-mark-question-item-sociology

The Mark Scheme (top band only)

10-mark-question-item-mark-top-band-sociology.png

Student Response:

Item C points out that most immigrants come to Britain from commonwealth countries such as Jamaica. Bertod did a study of Caribbean families which found a type of individualism: the norm that people had to right to be free within marriage even if they had a child with the other person. This meant many Caribbean fathers chose not to stay with the mother of their children, leading to an increase in lone parent families.

Thus it follows that the increase in Caribbean immigration has lead to an increase in single parent families which is up from 10% in the 1970s to 23% today.

Item C also says that immigrants come from India. A study by Ballard found that South East Asians have collective, traditional values and tight knit extended families which support traditional family values – women having many children and being in the expressive role, and men in the breadwinner role, with close ties to grandparents.

This should mean an increase in traditional extended families in the UK due to Indian immigration, however the statistics do not confirm this as the divorce rate has increased dramatically since the 1970s. This does not support the idea of increased traditional families as these value marriages.

However, functionalists argue that divorce can be healthy as it there is better quality relationships in surviving marriages and remarriages.

Examiner Commentary:

Mark: 10/10

aqa-sociology-paper-2-commentary.png

KT’s commentary:

  • This is overkill, easily 10/10!
  • Apparently 4 students died instantly of boredom on seeing the question because of reference to yet more sociology from before their parents were born. 

Source:

A-level
SOCIOLOGY
Feedback on the Examinations
Student responses and commentaries: Paper 1 7192/2 Topics in Sociology
Published: Autumn 2017

NB – this document is NOT available on the AQA website, but any teacher should have access to it via eaqa. I’m sharing it here in order to make the exam standards more accessible, and to support the AQA in their equality and meritocratic agendas, because there will be some poor students somewhere whose teachers aren’t organised enough to access this material for them. 

Family diversity by ethnicity in the UK

How does family life vary by ethnicity in the UK today?

This brief update explores the extent to which family life and attitudes to family-life vary across some of the different ethnic groups in the UK. It looks at such things as marriage, divorce, birth rates, household types, equality and household structure.

It has been written mainly for the A-level sociology specification, families and households topic.

Data from the latest (2011) census shows that 86% of the UK population are classified as ‘white’, 7.5% as ‘Asian’ or ‘Asian-British’, 3.3% as’ Black’, 2.2% as ‘Mixed’ and 1% as ‘other’.

(NB – This represents a signficant increase in ethnic minorities compared to the 2001 census. In 2011, 14% of the population were non-white, compared to 9% in 2001.)

A brief history of South-Asian Family Life in the UK

Ballard (1982) noted that most South-Asian families had a much broader network of familial-relations than a typical white-British family and one individual household might be only one small part of a complex global network of kin-relations.

Ballard argued that in order to understand South-Asian family life in the UK in the 1980s, you had to look at the ideal model of family life in Asia which is Patriarchal, being based on tight control of women, collectivist (the group is more important than the individual) and obsessed with mainting family honour (primarily through not getting divorced/ committing adultury or having children outside of wedlock) because maintaining honour was crucial to your being able to do business in the wider community.

Ballard also stressed the importance of Honour and its Patriarchal nature….. The complexity of the question of the asymmetry of the sexes is nowhere better illustrated than in the concepts of honour, izzat and shame, sharm. In its narrower sense izzat is a matter of male pride. Honourable men are expected to present an image of fearlessness and independence to the outside world, and at the same time to keep close control over the female members of their families. For a woman to challenge her husband’s or her father’s authority in public shamefully punctures his honour. To sustain male izzat wives, sisters and daughters must be seen to behave with seemly modesty, secluding themselves from the world of men.

One of the key questions A-level sociology students should ask themselves is the extent to which the above research is true today, or the extent to which things have changed!

Household type by Ethnicity, UK Census 2011

According to the UK 2011 Census, we had the following variations by ethnicity:

Some of the most obvious differences of ethnic minority households (compared to white) households include:

  • Asian households are three times less likely to be cohabiting, and have higher rates of marriage
  • Asian households have half the rate of Lone Person households compared to white households.
  • Black and mixed households have twice the rate of lone parent households.
  • Black, Asian and mixed households have incredibly low levels of pensioner couple households compared to White households, and much higher rates of ‘other households’ (could be ‘multigenerational?)

Source here.


British Asians have more conservative views towards marriage and sexuality.

According to a poll in 2018, British Asians are twice as likely to report that ‘sex before marriage’ is unacceptable than ‘all Britons’, they are also more likely to be against same-sex relationships.

Source: BBC News report, 2018

A previous UK National Statistics report showed that the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person. Demonstrating the importance of marriage for the Brit-Asian communities.


Divorce today is now much more common among Asian couples

Divorce has traditionally been seen as something shameful in Asian culture, with children under pressure to stay in loveless marriages in order to uphold the family’s honour and prevent shame falling on the family.

However, for today’s third and fourth generation Asians, things are much different.. According to this article there is a soaring British Asian divorce rate now that young Asian men and especially women are better educated and increasingly going into professional careers.


Forced Marriages are more common among Asian Families

There is also a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities.

In 2018 the British authorities dealt with 1500 cases of Forced Marriage, with there being over 1000 cases a year for most of the last decade.

Nearly half of all cases involve victims being taken to or originating from Pakistan, with Bangladesh being the second most involved country.

Only 7% of Forced Marriages take place entirely in the UK, so there’s an interesting link to (negative) Globalisation and family life here.

Source: ONS Forced Marriage Statistics


Immigrant women have higher fertility rates

The fertility rate for UK born mothers is 1.63, compared to 1.99 for non UK born mothers. This means the birth rate for non-UK born mother is about 25% higher.

The percentage of babies born to women from outside the UK has increased considerably over the last 20 years, but has recently leveled off and could now be declining.

Around 28% of births are to women who were born outside of the UK in 2018.

Source: ONS statistics: Births by Parents Country of Birth

The number of interracial relationships is increasing

The fact that interracial relationships are increasing might make it more difficult to make generalisations between ethnic groups in the future…..

Overall almost one in 10 people living in Britain is married to or living with someone from outside their own ethnic group, the analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows.


But the overall figure conceals wide variations. Only one in 25 white people have settled down with someone from outside their own racial background. By contrast 85 per cent of people from mixed-race families have themselves set up home with someone from another group.


Age is the crucial factor with those in their 20s and 30s more than twice as likely to be living with someone from another background as those over 65, reflecting a less rigid approach to identity over time.

Source: The Guardian, 2015

Other stuff

This is interesting: When will we stop blaming single black mother households.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!