The Windrush scandal has already claimed the scalp of Amber Rudd, who resigned as Home Secretary after she “inadvertently misled” Parliament.

But, until now, nobody knew how many people were potentially affected by the issue.

The case revolves around people invited to the UK from the Commonwealth (especially Caribbean countries) between 1948 and 1971.

New arrivals had been granted full British citizenship, with hundreds coming over on the ship MV Empire Windrush in 1948.

But it emerged that some members of this “Windrush generation” have been threatened with deportation because they don’t have enough documentation to prove their citizenship.

The exact numbers of people directly affected are not available, but there has been widespread speculation in the media.

FactCheck contacted the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to request new data that, for the first time, sheds light on how many might potentially have been at risk of deportation.

Commonwealth-born Windrushers

The 2011 Census collected data on three key bits of information on people living in England and Wales:

  • The country people were born in
  • When they first arrived in the UK
  • Whether they currently hold a passport

By cross-referencing these things, we can find out how many people from the Windrush generation did not have a passport by 2011.

And, if they didn’t have a passport, it’s possible they may have potentially become at risk of being deported.

The figures show that, by 2011, there were 599,078 people in England and Wales who were born in Commonwealth countries, who had come here before 1971.

90 per cent of these people (541,616) held a UK passport. And around six per cent (34,447) held passports from other Commonwealth countries.

But 3.5 per cent (21,053) did not have a passport at all.

These non-passport holders were spread right across England and Wales, with the biggest concentration in London.

Caribbean-born Windrushers

The data also allows us to drill down to look at Windrushers from Caribbean countries – which has been the focus of many of reports about the scandal.

These people arrived in the UK before 1971. But we don’t know exactly where in the Caribbean they were all from.

It’s possible some were from non-Commonwealth islands which were not covered by the UK’s Windrush policy after the Second World War. However, we think that’s likely to only be a very small proportion, given the fact it was Commonwealth citizens who were actively invited over.

The figures show that, by 2011, there were 144,395 people living in England and Wales who were born in the Caribbean, and who had arrived here before 1971.

Of these, 92 per cent (132,421) held a UK passport, while around 5 per cent held other, non-UK passports.

3.6% (5,193) of these people did not have a passport at the time of the 2011 Census.

Shortcomings with the data

Having a passport proves your citizenship. But other documentation may also prove it, such as a certificate of entitlement.

So, although not having a passport might put you at risk of deportation, we don’t know how many of these people had alternative forms of documentation instead.

What’s more, some people may have previously had UK passports, which had simply expired at the time of the Census. So this isn’t a statistics that proves lack of citizenship.

There’s also an issue with dates. The ONS figures show us everyone who arrived in the UK before 1971. But the Windrush Generation is only considered to have started in 1948. So the figures might include some people who arrived here before then.

This is unlikely to affect the figures by a huge amount, though. That’s partly because this only affects people born earlier than 1948 (who would have been at least 63 by 2011), but also because the Windrush policy of actively inviting Commonwealth citizens to the UK did not exist before this date.

However, it’s true that both of these issues may have inflated the numbers, suggesting more people were potentially at risk than there really were.

But other factors may understate the numbers of people at risk. Most significantly, the data does not capture the “children of Windrush”. 

This week, Channel 4 News told the story of a 64-year-old grandmother whose parents were part of the Windrush generation. She was told she cannot stay in the UK, and spent nine months in Yarl’s Wood detention centre.

She would not be included in the ONS data because she did not enter the UK during the relevant Windrush years.

But cases like hers are slightly complicated: although her parents had originally come to the UK in the Windrush generation, she herself was born in Jamaica and came to the UK as an adult.

We simply don’t know to what extent Windrush children change the overall picture.

However, we haven’t seen many reports of people being in this type of situation. Many “Windrush children” would have been born in the UK, which may have made it a lot easier for them to prove their citizenship.

The verdict

These figures don’t give us a precise and comprehensive account of the Windrush scandal; there are many shortcomings in the data.

At best, it may provide a reasonable indication of the kind of numbers involved – looking at those who may have potentially been at risk.

And it raises further questions about the government’s decision to destroy the so-called Windrush landing cards.

If this decision had been postponed until after the 2011 Census, the government would have discovered that 21,053 people from the Commonwealth, who came here in the Windrush generation, did not hold a passport.

With the landing cards destroyed, this made them potentially at risk of deportation if they lacked any other documents to prove their citizenship.