Stop G4S: Securitisation of the Asylum Housing “Market”

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Next week on Thursday June 6th the world’s largest security firm G4S, will hold its annual general meeting in the City of London.

A large coalition of groups, including NCADC, has called for a demonstration to be held outside the event, in protest of G4S’s varying and widespread human rights abuses.

This article is the first in a three-part series by NCADC volunteer, Sarah McCarthy, which will outline G4S’s role in the “asylum market” in the UK and how its involvement has led to many cases of serious neglect and mistreatment of those who seek sanctuary here.

This first piece will focus on how G4S has mishandled its contracts to house those seeking asylum in the UK.


Moving into the asylum housing market

Under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, people waiting for a decision on their application for asylum are not entitled to work (bar very limited exceptions) nor are they eligible for welfare benefits. Those who are deemed to be destitute can apply to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) for accommodation and/or housing support. Previously, this housing was provided by local authorities and housing associations. However, the Home Office opened up asylum housing contracts to private companies, and in 2012  G4S won a 7-year, £211 million contract; over one-third of the national asylum housing contracts.

The company had no previous experience of providing housing to vulnerable individuals prior to this. G4S subcontracted portions of this contract to smaller companies, who in turn subcontract to small private landlords. On June 18th 2012 G4S announced that it would have four new housing companies as its partners: Cascade Homes Ltd., Live Management, Mantel, and the charitable housing association Target HA; the former being the only one to have experience in housing vulnerable people.

Unliveable Conditions

Quite soon after G4S was awarded these contracts, stories of negligence and maltreatment began to emerge. On May 8th 2012, a woman in Bradford and her 12-week old baby were given barely a week’s notice that they had to leave their home. They were transported 40 miles to a tiny flat in Doncaster with no cooker, table or chair and only a tiny sink to wash dishes and clothes. Despite lodging complaints, they were forced to remain there for six weeks after UKBA declared it unfit for living. In August of the same year a pregnant woman was evicted on the day that she was due to be induced. These conditions are widespread: in February of this year the Maternity Alliance and the Refugee Council published a’s report documenting how UKBA’s asylum housing policy puts pregnant asylum seekers at risk.

…hideous conditions … abject disregard for basic human dignity

Chris Bryant MP, shadow Minister for Immigration has referred to the “hideous conditions” in asylum housing and during a Parliamentary Inquiry into Asylum Support for Children and Young People, Sarah Teather MP said the most shocking finding was the “abject disregard for basic human dignity demonstrate by housing providers.” According to Open Democracy, G4S’s own figures suggest that in Yorkshire alone up to 300 asylum seekers have been placed in “no choice” housing which is unfit and breaches their contract with the Home Office. There are dozens of cases of families being relocated to areas up to and over 120 miles away. After these conditions were highlighted by activists G4S assured them that inspections were being carried out – by their own ‘G4S Assessments’. Shockingly, despite public and parliamentary exposure the neglect and suffering goes on.

Harassment

One asylum seeker, Angela*, suffered serious mistreatment at the hands of G4S.The company failed to pay months of rent on the property she was living in, resulting in her being incessantly harassed by the landlord. G4S finally responded to the situation by forcing her and her infant son to move for the 4th time in a few months, leaving them without their medical and support networks. Previously, the two had been forced to spend a month in a damp, filthy property which was infested with cockroaches. When Angela spoke out about her conditions, G4S employees began to harass her, with male workers entering the house unannounced.

Almost every family told us that housing contractors routinely enter properties without knocking…it causes terror for children and is an epithet for the lack of respect with which they are treated

This was not an isolated case; like Angela, many women asylum seekers who have spoken out about their conditions have been subsequently harassed by male staff visiting unannounced. During the Parliamentary Inquiry into Asylum Support for Children and Young People, Sarah Teather MP said: “Almost every family told us that housing contractors routinely enter properties without knocking…it causes terror for children and is an epithet for the lack of respect with which they are treated.” At the end of February Cascade had 700 properties across West Yorkshire and no frontline women housing officers. Complaints of racial and sexual harassment (of which there are many) are dealt with G4S and Cascade “internally”.

Failure to provide housing at all

Alongside countless allocations of substandard housing, in many instances G4S have simply failed to provide any housing whatsoever. In March of this year a leaked email from a G4S Senior Executive revealed that the company was failing to meet its contractual obligations. The email from G4S managing director for immigration and borders, Stephen Small, admitted that one of its subcontractors has already resigned because it cannot meet its obligations, while two other have “expressed concerns” about being able to provide the requisite service. Last year hundreds of asylum-seekers had to be moved to council housing when G4S failed to put them in private accommodation. In September 2012 Corporate Watch estimated that 1,200 asylum seekers previously housed by local councils were being placed in sub-standard houses or left in limbo because G4S were unable to find enough private landlords.

Privatising a duty of care

The privatisation of accommodation for asylum seekers marks just one more market opened up by a Government intent on expanding the market into every arena possible. This process is problematic for a number of reasons.

G4S’s three tier system requires each “landlord” to skim off a layer of profit at each level, meaning the actual money going into the service is considerably lessened. This outsourcing model depends on cost-cutting, often to dangerous levels. It means that staff levels must be decreased to the bare minimum (and often less) and all other costs minimised as much as possible, which in the case of asylum accommodation results in substandard housing.

It has meant that vulnerable asylum seekers are not getting the support that councils previously offered. Interestingly, in many cases a bizarre “reverse privatisation” process has occurred, where G4S are using their contracts to pay local authorities and housing associations to manage asylum accommodation. In this case G4S are simply a parasite leeching profits from the budget for asylum housing. The question must be asked; what is the point of having them in the equation at all? Why should taxpayers’ money go towards the £9.5 million pension pot of recently retired CEO Nick Buckles?

The crucial problem with privatising a state-provided sector is that profit becomes prioritised over providing a duty of care. When a company is obligated to provide shareholders with a return on their investment, their priority has to be to maximise profit, at any legal (and sometimes not) cost. This means that providing quality and appropriate care is at best a secondary concern. In something as crucial and sensitive as providing accommodation for those fleeing torture, violence and persecution, this is not acceptable.

The outsourcing of asylum housing to G4S is merely one facet of an immigration system designed to criminalise those who migrate to the UK and to deter others from coming. As John Grayson, an activist from South Yorkshire said:

“The G4S contract not only privatises this humanitarian function but destroys it and replaces it with the clear message […] that asylum seekers are not welcome here, indeed they should be treated like criminals with prison guards as their landlords.”

This article is merely a first in a series; the next two will look at G4S’s role in the detention and deportation of asylum seekers in the UK.



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5 comments on “Stop G4S: Securitisation of the Asylum Housing “Market”

  1. Stuart on

    Good summary Sarah, thanks.

    I’d like to add a little, about how G4S has tried to co-opt individuals and organisations to cover their appalling reputation with people seeking asylum.

    As you say, G4S won the asylum housing contract despite having zero housing experience (unless you count locking people in detention centres and prisons). To deflect criticism they claimed to be working with “experts” in asylum housing.

    One of these “expert” companies was United Property Management (UPM) the same company that dumped a young woman and her baby in an unhealthy and dangerous flat 40 miles from her community and friends. UPM were dumped partly as a result of the campaign against them, hence the need for more “expert” companies to sub-contract to in June 2012. But, as you say, these sub-contractors also have no experience of housing vulnerable people. Except for Target Housing, the company which evicted a pregnant woman on the day she was to have an induced birth http://ind.pn/TNzZ1A Testimonies from former workers at Target Housing suggest that this abuse was not an isolated incident.

    G4S’ other attempt to persuade us all that they’re not just “looking to maximise shareholder returns in the asylum market” as Stephen Small (“Head of G4S Borders and Immigration”) once told us was to employ two “Social Cohesion” managers. One was Duncan Wells who used to work in an asylum charity in Leeds. Wells recently resigned: One suspects that G4S had no more need for a PR man who could try to get asylum charities on board. The other Social Cohesion manager/PR man, in the Midlands was…the former CEO of Target Housing, Gino Toro. Toro was employed AFTER his housing association had evicted the heavily pregnant woman in Yorkshire. He still draws his salary from G4S, paid for from public money they received when they were given the COMPASS asylum housing contracts by UKBA back in March 2012.

    It was recently announced that in the Midlands region, G4S would be directly “dealing with the welfare of asylum tenants” after their sub-contractor Live Management has performed disastrously. Expect the same in Yorkshire soon as cowboy sub-contractors go bust and get suspended from the contract.

    So now, the pretence has gone: the same company who are accused of killing Jimmy Mubenga are DIRECTLY housing people seeking asylum.

    Reply
  2. Bilal on

    Stuart / Sarah, a lot of you information is wrong. Asylum housing was privatized a long time before G4S were involved. Everyone seems to forget that the West Midlands Consortium of local authorities kicked all asylum seekers out of their council properties a few years ago and private companies re-housed all of them. UPM were not dumped by G4S – they could not agree contractual issues. I’m no fan of G4S but this sort of lazy “journalism” does no one any favours. You can pick a few cases were things have gone wrong but what about those living in fantastic houses.

    Reply
    • Stuart on

      Bilal says “You can pick a few cases were things have gone wrong but what about those living in fantastic houses”? What about those living in “fantastic houses” Bilal? I haven’t heard of any. Care to provide us with examples?

      Leeds City Council ordered G4S to review all its asylum housing in May this year. According to “G4S Assessments” (who carried out the “independent inspection” !!) 18% G4S properties in West Yorkshire were unfit for human habitation. That means hundreds of people living in squalor and all paid for by public money. Imagine what a truly independent inspection would find…

      Reply

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