Securing whose world?

31 Jan

Notorious G4S to get housing contract in north east

Late last year, G4S were announced as the preferred bidders for the contract for housing in the north east for people seeking sanctuary. The formal contract is due to be awarded in February.


People arriving in the UK in search of sanctuary were once able to access welfare benefits and council housing on the basis of need, like people already living in the UK, but a series of harsh legislation brought in from 1996 onwards withdrew this, and, after attempts by the government to leave all new arrivals destitute were ruled unlawful, created a separate system for support for people seeking sanctuary.

These changes, setting up a parallel system, can be seen as a divide-and-rule tactic, segregating people seeking sanctuary from other council house tenants and welfare claimants.

At the same time, this legislation paved the way for the privatisation of parts of the support service, services which were once public. The Institute for Race Relations, discussing the 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act, explains:

‘Lucrative contracts to house asylum seekers were frequently taken up by local authorities, sub-contracted to accommodation providers and then sub-contracted further to private landlords. The result was a housing system which in many instances was poorly regulated, substandard and unsafe’.

In the North East, one of the private companies providing housing was Angel Group, investigated for ‘financial irregularities’  , and the subject of many protests.

Private sector involvement has now increased, with local authority contracts being dropped in favour of contracts with 3 multinationals – Serco, Reliance and G4S – who have contracts between them covering the whole of the UK.


G4S, who are set to get the contract for the north east, are the world’s largest security company and have contracts to transport, detain and imprison throughout the world.

Going under the company slogan ‘Securing Your World’, G4S have contracts for several immigration prisons and short-term holding facilities in the UK. An unannounced visit to one of these by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons last year found numerous problems, and campaigners have highlighted the poor treatment people held there face. A  Freedom of Information Request showed 773 complaints from people held in these centres in 2010.

G4S recently got a contract to run Birmingham prison,  the first public prison in the UK to be transferred to the private sector, and hold contracts for other private prisons, as well as Secure Training Centres and Youth Offender Institutes where children and young people are held. Child prisons such as these were described in a recent ruling by the courts as places where unlawful use of force against large numbers of children was widespread.

G4S are involved in court security, prisoner transport and electronic tagging, and have the contract for security at the Olympic Games in London. G4S have received criticism recently for their involvement in the border security industry in Palestine.

Globally, G4S are huge profiteers of the Prison Industrial Complex .

Contracting G4S for social housing has been criticised, for example in protests in South Wales where a G4S housing consultation was disrupted,  and there are many reasons why…

Ill treatment, abuse and deaths

In 2010 G4S were accused of killing Jimmy Mubenga, who died after being restrained by G4S security guards during a forcible deportation to Angola.  Three G4S guards were arrested and are still under investigation.

In response, protests and vigils against G4S have been held, including at the company’s AGM last year.

In July 2011, Amnesty International called for a complete overhaul of enforced removals by private security companies, after researching and documenting allegations of excessive force and other abuse carried out by private security staff, including G4S, while in January 2012, a Home Affairs Select Committee report investigating the death of Jimmy Mubenga criticised the “cosy relationship” between UKBA and its private contractors.  Statewatch also reported on the ‘privatised manslaughter’.

In Australia, G4S pleaded guilty in 2011 after a man died of heat-stroke whilst being transported by G4S staff in the back of an un-airconditioned van in 40 degree heat .

Secure connections…

This and many more of the horrors of G4S were highlighted by protesters in Tucson, Arizona, who took action last year to expose the G4s’ profiteering from misery and suffering, saying ‘G4S not only reaps the profits of border enforcement, they also shape public policy to criminalize immigrants and ensure a steady stream of people to fill their buses and jails’.

In ‘Security and immigration: Toward a critique of the governmentality of unease’ Didier Bigo discusses the way the idea of ‘security’ has been transformed in ways which meet the interests of security professionals, expanding their sphere of influence.

In the UK, research has shown that G4S pays £45,000 a year to former defence secretary John Reid MP (now Lord Reid) for ‘strategic advice’, and got contracts with government departments whilst Reid was still in office.

Workers rights?

G4S recently got a contract for the much criticised ‘workfare’ programmeforced unpaid labour for people in receipt of benefits. In taking over this contract, G4S have also been accused of trampling on workers’ rights,  not uncommon for G4S, who were investigated in 2006 for breaching labour rights in several countries.

A report by UNI Property Services and Alliance for Justice at Group 4 Securicor in 2007, highlighted frequent violations of labour laws by G4S in Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa and brought attention to the racism, poverty wages, and oppression faced by people employed by G4S in those countries.

Profiting from suffering

Whilst in the UK, changes to the welfare system and changes to the asylum support system are pushing people further and further into poverty, companies like G4S are raking in profits from contracts. Nick Buckles,  chief executive of G4S, took home £3.8 million last year, whilst slashing of the housing budget for asylum seekers, pensions, welfare,  and public services began.

Securing whose world?

The example of G4S illustrates the practices that are part and parcel of the current economic system, a system based on ‘securing the world’ for the privileged few – increasing their power, privilege and wealth at the expense of the many.

Resist G4S!

Resist profiteering, segregation, exploitation and oppression!

Anti-cuts protestors, anti-capitalists, welfare claimants, people migrating, prison resistors, workers’ rights activists, trade unionists, everyone!

Read more about G4S’s expansion into more once-public services:

Meet G4S, Government’s untouchable friend, Clare Sambrook, 15 October 2010

More on G4S:

Corporate Watch

Campaign Briefing by South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group.

Group 4 Securicor Attacks South African Shack Dwellers’ Movement, 2009

Surveillance + detention = £Billions: How Labour’s friends are ‘securing your world’ Clare Sambrook, 13 April 2010

Selling the state: the ‘unethical’ companies taking over UK public services, Tom Sanderson, 2011

More on immigration legislation, welfare access, housing and impact:

Public Spending Cuts Savage Dispersal System, Institute for Race Relations, 2011

Poor, excluded and forgotten: asylum seekers and the welfare state, Child Poverty Action Group, 2003

Changing Support for Asylum Seekers: An Analysis of Legislation and Parliamentary Debates, University of Sussex, Sussex Centre for Migration Research, 2008 

More on the Prison Industrial Complex, securitisation and abuse:

What is the Prison Industrial Complex? Rachel Herzing, Critical Resistance

Security and immigration: Toward a critique of the governmentality of unease, Didier Bigo, 2002

INQUEST Briefing: Jimmy Mubenga, INQUEST, 2011

Outsourcing Abuse, Birnberg Peirce & Partners, Medical Justice and NCADC, 2008

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