A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Michael Braithwaite – a public servant, a Windrush child and a UNISON member.
Michael has been through more in recent years than most of us can imagine, with his life torn apart by the vicious “hostile environment” regime introduced by Theresa May as home secretary.
Having lived in the UK for 56 years since arriving from Barbados aged nine, Michael – rightly – thought his immigration status was beyond question. He was, and is, a pillar of his community, the kind of neighbour we’d all wish to have and exactly the kind of person who we’re so fortunate to have educating our children.
Michael works as a teaching assistant. He specialises in working with those with special educational needs, but he works with all children.
You can see why he was drawn to this work 15 years ago, and why he’s so popular with those he’s worked alongside and taught. For Michael, his work was his passion – his second home – and he took great joy in the achievements of the children who he supported.
And yet as a result of a single DBS check at work – something he’d done many times before – he found himself out of work caught up in a ridiculous and illogical government policy which destroyed his life.
Understandably, the impact was devastating.
To be pulled entirely out of your own life – out of work and fearing that losing your family, your home and your friends could be the next step – is something few of us can truly comprehend.
This was a person so clearly full of compassion treated with so little compassion by an uncaring government determined to make life difficult for those who have chosen to make their lives here – regardless of circumstance, duration, family and community ties or even legal status.
Fortunately for Michael, it was UNISON who stood by him when he lost his job, and ensured that he received the legal representation he needed to fight his case. He was ably supported by his branch and his steward Hugo.
His legal status in the UK is clear and he has been offered the chance to return to his old job.
All of this should be a source of immense pride to everyone in UNISON, as it is to me.
And yet this is not a story with a happy-ending. What Michael was put through was too serious, too damaging and too prolonged for that. Meanwhile, too many others faced similar pressures and threats – again, thanks to policies conceived of and implemented by Theresa May.
But if this government want a hostile environment – then our union will give it one.
A hostile environment to those who turn on those who have made their lives here. A hostile environment for attacks on public services. And a hostile environment for this Conservative government.