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Outsourcing charity – the G4S way

The security firm G4S has spread its tentacles far and wide in the UK. Now it is extending its reach into charity, after it signed a contract with a charitable housing association in Yorkshire. Where next?

Soon, if you commit a crime in Lincolnshire you may well find yourself being processed by G4S police staff, held in a G4S custody suite in a G4S police station, appear before a G4S-trained magistrate, and perhaps be sent to the G4S-run Wolds prison with a G4S probation officer, ending up in ex-offenders accommodation in South Yorkshire, run by a charitable housing association Target which from last week is also contracted to G4S.

Target will house asylum seekers under the G4S security company’s contract with the UK Border Agency. Target contracts with G4S knowing that some of its new tenants have recent experience of G4S detention centres – detention centres where a Freedom of Information request has just revealed that in the first three months of this year 21 detainees attempted to kill themselves in G4S’s Brook House and Tinsley House centres – a 200 per cent increase on the previous quarter.

Many of us who work with people seeking asylum in Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham, where Target operates, have listened to asylum seekers’ accounts of their experience of encounters with G4S escorts, detention centre guards and prison officers. They talk openly of the death of Jimmy Mubenga (who died during restraint by G4S guards on a plane at Heathrow), and the brutality of G4S escorts.

And many of the people we work with have met G4S in other countries. Sheffield asylum seekers talk of encountering brutal G4S prison guards in South Africa, G4S staff at Kabul airport, and G4S security guards in Afghanistan. They overwhelmingly agree with a Zimbabwean asylum seeker tenant who said “I do not want a prison guard as my landlord”.

It is perhaps not at all surprising that a housing company in these difficult economic times opts to pick up business where it can. What is deeply shocking to asylum support charities and campaigners in South Yorkshire is that Target is a charitable housing association with ostensibly liberal reforming and democratic values.

Target even claims that for its residents “Volunteering is becoming a big part of resident involvement”. Target will soon find out that it has signed a contract with UKBA which means its new ‘residents’ or ‘clients’ are banned from any volunteering which can be defined as ‘work’. It has also agreed to, in effect, spy on its residents and report to the local UKBA Immigration teams:

  •  - Any reasonable suspicions that a Service User may be engaged in criminal activity, violent extremism or radicalisation

  •  - Any reasonable suspicions that a Service User may be living beyond the means of their support

  •  - Any reasonable suspicions that the Service User is working for payment

Target has become one of the growing list of charities to be sucked into the outsourcing and privatisation mania which is part of the ‘modernising’ of public services, started in earnest by New Labour, and continued and intensified by the current Coalition. Labour also pioneered the promotion of private security companies like G4S to exploit ‘asylum markets’ – Lord Reid, a former Labour Home Secretary, is still promoting G4S as one of its board members.

G4S contracts are part of what Stuart Weir on OurKingdom has called a process of modern-day enclosure of the public sphere, state services, and now the voluntary and charitable sectors by the private sector, using public funds to privatise them, and in the process, undermining and corrupting their values with the values of ‘the market’, and an international for-profit security company.

In Yorkshire G4S has recruited the chief executive of a respected refugee organisation, RETAS, based in Leeds, for a prominent role with G4S in the coming evictions and relocation of people in asylum housing, thereby discrediting the organisation and ending trust from asylum seekers and refugees.

Charities can legitimately earn income from asylum housing ‘markets’, and have proved in the past, when working with local councils, to be better landlords than private landlords like UPM – but not always. Ypeople, the charitable housing company of the YMCA in Glasgow has just ended an £11 million asylum housing contract which is to be taken over by SERCO another private security giant, like G4S, heavily mired in the asylum deportation and detention market. Ypeople have ended their contract by evicting 156 asylum seekers, turning them out on the streets, destitute.

In April Positive Action in Housing reported that officials of the Christian charity were:

“Turning off . . . electricity, changing locks, putting up metal doors, effectively freezing and locking out the most vulnerable in our society from eerily rundown buildings with empty flats no one else wants to live in.”

The YMCA already had a compromised image. In 2005 it had been criticised by the TUC, and others, and forced to withdraw from bidding to supervise compulsory unpaid community work for ‘failed’ asylum seekers, under Section 10 of Labour’s 2004 Asylum Act.

Other major charities have also been sucked into the orbit, and privatised values, of G4S and the security industry. Barnardo’s provide “welfare services” to families detained at the Border Agency’s new “Cedars” detention facility run by G4S. Barnardo’s also run services for prisoners families in G4S private prisons in South Wales (paid for from public funds and £3 million from the Big Lottery) Other major charities like the Pre-school Learning Alliance have tarnished their reputations and ethical practice by signing contracts with G4S.

Anne Marie Carrie, chief executive of Barnardo’s, defended their work with G4S at Cedars thus:

“Barnardo’s decision to provide welfare and social care services to asylum seeking families at the new pre-departure accommodation goes back to our core purpose; supporting the most vulnerable children in the UK.”

In fact Barnardo’s collusion has helped make the continued detention of this vulnerable group of children viable, by giving the new detention arrangements Barnardo’s stamp of approval.

Paul McDowell the present director of charity NACRO argued rather strangely in May 2010, when the charity was bidding with G4S to run Belmarsh West and other prisons, that it would be "morally wrong" for charities to abandon service users by refusing to collaborate with private companies.

He maintained that, although it was ethical to support private security companies like G4S with services, "I don't know of a charity whose principles fit with running prisons.". Actually two charities did decide that their principles allowed this, as The Guardian pointed out:

“The unusual thing about the Belmarsh West contract is that the successful consortium is built on an alliance of the private and voluntary sectors. For the first time Turning Point, the substance misuse charity, and Catch 22, formed after the merger of Rainer and Crime Concern, are to work with Serco.”

Labour and Coalition governments have been using public funds to encourage international corporations like G4S and SERCO to create a privatised security state in Britain. Few of us are wakening up to this fact, even fewer of us have noticed that in the process companies like G4S are outsourcing, privatising and degrading what is left of public service values in our civil society.

Acknowledgements: David Price and Clare Sambrook provided useful material for this article

About the author

John Grayson is an independent researcher and adult educator. He is an activist and campaigner with SYMAAG (South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group). He writes regularly for openDemocracy and for the Institute of Race Relations news service www.irr.org.uk


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