Day Dreaming in Darkness

As SERCO’s Managing Director talks about needing to “deliver value for their shareholders”, many are concerned about vulnerable, frightened people, both men and women, being violently evicted and that within the next two and a half months we will see at least 300 people being made totally destitute in Glasgow. Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration, reports for Bella.

In August 2018, just last year, and with a City in uproar, I joined many protestors and advocates in speech-making at demonstrations against SERCO’s eviction announcement.

Nearly a year on and they are at it again, before the new provider takes over. The stakes are higher, the legal processes working away slowly but surely, the housing and asylum/refugee sectors have co-ordinated and prepared and worked with the City of Glasgow. But make no mistake, on every side there will be varied, creative, gatherings of people protesting the decision. Those gatherings will range from the be-suited Cabinet Secretary, Heads of Operations for the Home Office and SERCO, with City Council officials, to those already living destitute among us in the city, and those who care for them in the best ways they can. As usual there will be a well-organised protest movement, – rapid, angry and focused – and Glaswegians will take to Buchanan Street Steps, George Square and Brand Street. The press will report this. There will be some great home-made protest signs. Again.

That SERCO chose to make the announcement on the day Sabir Zazai, head of the Scottish Refugee Council was receiving an Honorary Degree from the University of Glasgow, was petty-minded and vindictive, and seriously underestimated the phenomenal reaction and action speeds of the collective of organisations in the City working together, often in a fraught and precarious position, to support those in blind panic receiving letters written in an English quite frankly I struggle to understand. I watched the expression on this dignified man’s face as the news came through and felt the sickness in the pit of my own stomach, as we checked our phones as the ceremony was coming to an end, and we knew we were once again, at the foot of Protest Mountain.

Lord Soames and SERCO have made no secret of the fact they believe they are the victims here. And deserve sympathy. And legal remedies they can afford to pursue. After all the Home Office are not contracting them to house those who are appeal rights exhausted so why should they pick up the tab, and they have done so whilst the first legal case was pending, to be fair….. to be fair?! The understandings of fairness across the political spectrum range from what is fair before the law, what is equal and what is equitable. To be a multi-millionaire and be responsible for profiting from evictions is just sick. To the core. But in these times of celebrated amorality, that’s not how any appeal will be won.

Blame fundamentally lies in the sadly un-sexy world of procurement legislation and Home office contracting. It’s why the heroes of the piece here are largely those unsung sitting at desk ploughing through housing legislation and filling out forms for legal aid or some other assistance so they can fight something that is never going to grab the headlines.

There will be speeches and symbolic actions. There will be meetings and tactics and legal actions. We will probably burn the eviction letters again. And people made destitute will come and live in our home again, for a while. When a government fails so utterly to provide for the least among us, in ways which accord with their human rights, then we have to chose to do something ourselves, to make the suffering lessen and the sanctuary grow. Right now you can do nothing. Or you can do something. Support the lawyers; volunteer a room, donate to destitution funds, write to your MPs, your MSPs – use every democratic right you have …. While you still have it.

Because….

It is not true that people seeking asylum are not welcome here and that we should only look after “our own”

This is true:- this is your home, you are our own and you have honoured us with the dignity of your presence.

It is not true that the UK Government’s hostile environment will make us safe or make us happy.

This is true:- hospitality makes communities flourish.

It is not true that only those with money and status should have adequate housing or adequate health services; or that we have to fix things for ‘our own’ first.

This is true:- This is the city where Mary Barbour led the rent strikes, the city of Positive Action, Shelter, Glasgow City Mission, Ubuntu Night Shelter, The Destitution Night Shelter, Refugee Survival Trust, Scottish Refugee Council, Red Cross Scotland and where hundreds of people of good will have volunteered for those who needed accommodation regards of status, race, religion, language, sexuality or other spurious markers of shame.

It is not true that our local politicians cannot agree on anything and are not doing anything.

This is true:- all 7 Glasgow MPs have stepped into the breach with care and help and advice and clear condemnation of both Serco and the Home Office.

It is not true that all private businesses will behave like Serco.

This is true:- The Social Bite, The Milk Café, The Olive Tree and so many, many others, are paying it forward, showing compassion, making life better for all.

It is not true that procurement rules ensure the fair award of contracts.

This is true:- the odds are stacked towards the massive corporations with their shady dealings, well-funded legal teams and £30 million operating profits.

It is not true that that our Councils and voluntary organisations can or should simply pick up the tab.

This is true:- Our social services are underfunded and at breaking point; our tireless voluntary organisations are stretched to capacity. Burn out is a serious concern across the lives of many gathered here.

And yet […] this is also true:- Though burn out is a serious concern our City Councillors and voluntary and grassroots organisations are united and are here and have not slept a wink and are stepping up and labouring, and raising funds and creating an environment where those who are being evicted, unjustly, find safety and security and care.

And make no mistake, this too is true: – We will labour, and we will rest, we will step up and we grow through the beauty, and the justice of this work. We are not going anywhere.

It is not true that changing Serco will change everything. That’s rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic.

This is true:- The Home Office has stacked the game so that only those delivering hostile environments win contracts; and so that the winner takes all.

It is not true that Serco and the contracted deliverers of the Government’s Hostile Environment will not put vulnerable people out on the street

This is true:- In this city with the same privatised profiteers, they do and they did and they will. In another city 2015 a sobbing young woman who had just had her first baby called us from hospital saying “they have changed the locks”.

And this is true:- Her social worker fought for her to return home. She did. The providers told her they “would starve her out”. And they did. She left. She lived with us. And she had full, refugee status.

It is not true that we will be better off if you abandon certain groups of people and focus only on our own back yard.

This is true:- The New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy is rooted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond their control” Article 25 (1)

As the poet Tawona Sitholé says: “Who shouted day break in the middle of the night, that was just me day-dreaming in darkness.”

This is true People make Glasgow. We make Glasgow. And we are shouting “Day break” in the middle of this night!

 

*

If you live in Glasgow, and have a spare room, please register at www.roomforrefugees.com – you will be contacted to match you with someone who needs breathing space for a few weeks until they can decide their options.

 

 

Comments (6)

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  1. Jenny Tizard says:

    Thanks Alison for this hard hitting, inspiring account of what’s happening.
    What can we do if we live outside of Glasgow?

  2. Wul says:

    Serco’s MD wants to “deliver value” for shareholders. Isn’t it funny how many euphemisms we have for “make money”?

    It’s almost as if we are embarrassed about the truth.

  3. Wul says:

    I’m tempted to offer refuge to someone, but I am very wary of a open-ended commitment to allow a stranger into my family home. Is it possible to cancel an arrangement if it is not working out for the host?

  4. Willie says:

    Good article but isn’t it a plague on all out houses, save for the few that actually try to do something about the austerity / hostile environment / naked corporate exploitation that stalks our country.

    Or what about the housing shortage that afflicts so many forcing them in private let’s.

    Or a health service where citizens data is run through Home Office, Border Agency computers.

    Yes, and for those who walk by, who can guarantee that that the system won’t come for them.

    Maybe it should. Maybe the presently comfortable and inactive masses should feel the boot on their face too. Then they would know the misery the rotten system is causing.

  5. florian albert says:

    Glasgow, which has – by some distance – the most serious social problems in Scotland, was in 2017, according to The Guardian, hosting well over 3,000 asylum seekers. (Only six other local authorities in the UK hosted over 1,000. None of these came close to 2,000.)
    One solution would be to share out the burden more fairly across Scotland. Edinburgh could easily take a significant number. It is by no means the only prosperous local authority which could help out. All that is missing is political will.

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