The Wave of Post-War Immigration

  • In the wake of World War II, Britain called upon immigrants from its colonies and Commonwealth countries to help address labour shortages, marking the beginning of significant post-war immigration.
  • The British Nationality Act (1948) was pivotal, offering citizenship to all people living in Commonwealth countries and creating the foundation for mass immigration.
  • The arrival of the Empire Windrush in June 1948, carrying over 500 settlers from Caribbean countries, symbolised the beginning of mass migration to the UK.

Changes in Immigration Policies

  • The implementation of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act in 1962 and 1968 and the Immigration Act of 1971 were efforts by the government to control immigration.
  • These acts introduced the requirement for employment vouchers for immigrants and restricted the right to free entry for Commonwealth citizens, marking a shift in British immigration policy.

Impact on British Society

  • Immigration from various parts of the world had a transformative effect on British society and culture.
  • The emergence of diverse and multicultural communities, particularly in urban areas, led to a fusion of different customs, festivals, and food—marking the beginning of modern multicultural Britain.
  • However, immigration also led to racial and ethnic tensions, epitomised by the Notting Hill race riots in 1958 and the rise of far-right groups such as the National Front in the 1970s.

The Role of Immigrant Communities

  • Immigrant populations played a crucial role in post-war reconstruction, with many working in key sectors such as transport, the health service and manufacturing.
  • These communities also played a significant role in Britain’s economic progress during the transition from austerity to affluence.

The Immigration Debate

  • Throughout these decades, immigration was a contentious political issue with periods of public opposition and policy shifts aimed at controlling immigrant numbers.
  • Discrimination and poor living conditions faced by immigrants catalysed the introduction of anti-discrimination laws, including the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1976.
  • The era also saw the rise of significant activism centred around immigrant rights and anti-racism, with figures like Claudia Jones and organisations like the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination coming to prominence.