By Ellen Morton, Glasgow Marxists
Earlier this month the multimillion-pound company ‘Serco’ demonstrated how far it is willing to go in the callous pursuit of profit. It issued notices to refugees and asylum-seekers stating that in 7 days the locks to their homes would be changed, leaving them out on the streets with no-where to go. Similar evictions, albeit on a smaller scale, have been happening across the UK in the past year and highlight the complete inability of private contractors to provide safe, high-quality and consistent housing for some of society’s most vulnerable people.
Towards the end of July this year, Serco took the shocking decision to illegally evict people from their homes by changing the locks, leaving them destitute and on the streets. 330 men, women and children are threatened with homelessness because they no longer meet Serco’s ‘requirements’ for housing as asylum seekers. This is ridiculous, as the majority of those in question are in the middle of appeals and are therefore legally entitled to housing. The lock-change notices are also causing fear and uncertainty for the 5,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Glasgow who are housed by Serco, who now have no idea when and if they too will be served with notices, giving them just 7 days before being thrown out onto the streets. This will be particularly brutal as most homeless charities and shelters cannot legally admit asylum seekers, due to racist UK laws, leaving only one shelter available to male asylum seekers, and not a single shelter in Glasgow where female asylum seekers can go. Glasgow City Council has called the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’.
However, Serco has not gotten away with the evictions as they had hoped. Protests have taken place across Glasgow, as people came out in solidarity with those being turfed out onto the streets. In bold defiance of the anti-immigrant and refugee agenda that the establishment pumps out daily, around 500 people gathered in Glasgow city centre demanding the asylum-seekers get to keep their homes, and that the filthy hand of profit is kept out of social housing.
Despite Serco being contracted by the government, both Westminster and Holyrood have done little to resolve the issue. There was a meeting of ministers on the 8th of August, however no action has come of this. Instead it has been left to already overstretched charities to intervene. The housing charity Shelter and the Govan Law Centre have both taken legal action against Serco, as they are violating the human rights of the people they are supposed to look after. Serco announced that they would halt the evictions until the outcome of the court rulings, leaving thousands of asylum seekers in uncertainty over what will happen next.
This problem is not just limited to Glasgow, however. Across the UK those appealing asylum cases may not automatically receive funding for housing until after their case, and as a result they are made homeless by the private contractors who are driven by the rabid pursuit of profit rather than the wish to provide good-quality and stable accommodation. Ludicrously, in 2016 the chief executive of Serco, Rupert Soames, said his company had decided to house asylum seekers, not because of the money they could make, but because “we feel very passionately about looking after asylum seekers well”. As many are now facing homelessness it is obvious that statement is a complete lie, and that the real reason Serco takes public sector contracts is the dizzying profits involved. In the UK Serco has its hands in housing, prisons, hospitals, transport and detention centres. In 2017 it made a profit of over £70 million.
It’s important to understand that Serco is not just a ‘bad apple’ and this case isn’t just a one-off but a reflection of the way the capitalist system works. Since 2008 we have been in the midst of a capitalist crisis, and this has led to capitalists having to look for new areas out of which they can squeeze profit, areas which had previously been left to the state. As a result, we have seen an unprecedented amount of private-sector involvement in the public sector in the past 10 years – from hospitals, council housing and the police, to schools and universities. This month yet another scandal took place when the government had to take over the running of Birmingham prison from G4S, another outsourcer, so appalling was the state of the prison. But how do private companies make profit out of areas that used to make no profit at all? The answer is clear, worse pay and conditions for staff, and worse services for those using them. We call for the filthy hand of profit to be taken out of housing and other services, through immediate re-nationalisation with no compensation for the big businesses who have been profiting from them for far too long.
The Serco evictions in Glasgow have also brought to light the perilous conditions in which asylum-seekers and refugees in the UK are forced to live. The vast majority are barred from working at all, and instead have to survive on just £5 a day, and in accommodation which is often crowded and unsuitable. Most refugees come not looking for ‘better lives’ as the bourgeois media likes to make out, but are fleeing the horrors of war and destruction, much of which was caused by imperialist meddling abroad. They make extremely perilous journeys, with over 8,000 people confirmed having died crossing the Mediterranean from 2016-2017 alone (and the actual figure likely to be much higher). It comes as no surprise that most refugees come from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and western Africa, countries which have been ravished by western imperialism over the past 100 years.
But instead of facing the humanitarian crisis their actions have caused, the bourgeois politicians and the media demonise refugees and migrants in an attempt to distract people from the real enemy. These ‘divide and rule’ tactics have been used by the establishment time and time again to try and dupe the working class into thinking that a lack of jobs, houses, low pay and more is not due to the inability of capitalism to provide these things, but is because of refugees and migrants instead. However, as the response by ordinary Glaswegians to the Serco evictions shows, people are no longer willing to go along with this anti-immigrant rhetoric and are starting to see who their real enemies are – the politicians, bankers and billionaires who are willing to turf ordinary people out of their homes in the blink of an eye.