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Profiting from violence against women

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asylum, human rights, rape, Giving private sector giants like G4S contracts threatens services to victims of violence against women.

After the calamitous fiasco of failing to secure the Olympics, British outsourcing giant G4S has hit the headlines again recently with the announcement that it has been awarded a contract to run two Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in the West Midlands.

SARCs offer support services to victims of rape and sexual assault without requiring them to go to the police.

The decision to award the contract to G4S was made by the local NHS commissioning board, and introduced as part of the government’s broader localism agenda.

It brings G4S further into the delivery of public services, including prisons, immigration detention centres, policing and welfare to work programmes.

Resistance to the decision to award G4S with the SARCs contract has been widespread, and comes from within the women’s sector and trade unions.

In the Guardian, Unison’s Kate Jennings said, “It is shocking that a private, profit-making company with such a chequered record should be put in charge of these highly sensitive and intimate support services.

“A woman at her most vulnerable must be treated with the ultimate respect, dignity and sensitivity by trained professionals who she feels confident about placing her trust in.”

Aurora New Dawn, a frontline service in Hampshire where I am Writer in Residence, works with victims and survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and recently created a petition calling for the decision to be overturned.

The Chief Executive of Aurora New Dawn, Shonagh Dillon, said, “There are so many reasons why this decision is worrying.

“Firstly, awarding this contract to G4S has knocked out the service provision from the specialist voluntary sector. This means an instant loss of specialist expertise from the sector.

“Given this is happening on a local as well as a national scale, we’re particularly concerned about the cumulative, long term impact that the privatisation of our public services will have on the national skills base addressing sexual and domestic violence.

“The voluntary sector simply can’t compete with the likes of G4S in a climate where local authorities and commissioning boards are seeking above all to cut costs – but it will be victims and survivors who really pay the price.”

A recent report to the Home Affairs Select Committee on asylum from social enterprise, Kazuri, which works with female asylum seekers, highlights some serious concerns over a current G4S contract providing services to female asylum seekers.

Not least of these concerns is the lack of specialist expertise to be found in the security firm, particularly in relation to an understanding of the gendered violence frequently suffered by women seeking asylum.

In addition, Kazuri have identified a large number of serious concerns in G4S services so far.

These include housing for asylum seekers deemed unfit for human habitation; allegations that G4S has ‘ignored’ housing problems, despite complaints from residents; and complaints of intimidation and sexual harassment

One asylum seeker told Kazuri: “We are living in a property in Coventry being run by G4S, we are family of 4… We had so far got rid of 20 mice in our house…my 2 young children are so scared…we asked him for treatment of mice…he came one day and gave us one gluetrap…”

Kazuri’s concerns are echoed by others, including the South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group which is quoted in the report saying: “We maintain our view that G4S are prison guards not landlords. Their record is one of abuse towards asylum seekers in this country and elsewhere.”

This particular contract has seen £374 million awarded to G4S to house asylum seekers, and the allegations against the corporate giant, Kazuri maintains, is therefore a matter of the public interest.

In their report to Parliament, Kazuri appeal for improved oversight of G4S and their many contracts, saying that “Small social enterprises cannot possibly police the criminal actions of multinational companies.”

Whether Kazuri is right in this or not, we should all be very glad they are trying.

Recent reports highlight that government contracts awarded to the security firm have soared by over £65m in a year, giving rise to allegations from Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman that G4S is becoming a  ‘private army’ of the state.

With their increasing popularity with government seeming to far outweigh their actual ability to deliver decent services for vulnerable people, increased oversight of G4S should be a real priority.

UPDATE: The petition mentioned in this article was closed after a response from NHS England was received by Aurora New Dawn. In their response, Janet White, Head of Customer Contacts for NHS England said:

“NHS England takes complaints about any of its services or those services it commissions very seriously and following an investigation I am now about to provide you with a full and final response to the concerns raised.

“…One of the advantages of NHS England becoming involved in commissioning of these services is that they have been able to review current arrangements and provide oversight particularly around clinical governance. NHS England will shortly be publishing a Sexual Assault Services ‘Securing Excellence’ document. Accordingly, where contracts for services have been let to third party providers, there are robust mechanisms in place to ensure a quality service is delivered…

“…When private companies have been awarded SARC contracts it has been following… a selection process, which will have been undertaken in accordance with recognised procurement rules. The contract will have been awarded because the company was assessed as submitting the best application which demonstrated their ability to meet the service specification. The NHS is not permitted to exclude bidders purely on the basis that they are a private organisation.

“Ultimately, the process is about ensuring a sustainable and supportive environment for victims. We are always ready to listen to any particular concerns about an individual SARCs [sic] response to the need of a victim so that we can continue to ensure the provision of a good service.”

You can read the full response letter here.

In the meantime, let’s hope that the “robust mechanisms” of which Ms White is so confident are effective. But given G4S track record in managing the Olympic security contract, running prisons and prison transportation, managing deportees, managing housing for asylum seekers and welfare to work (to name a few) – it doesn’t seem likely somehow.

  1. I went to the petition link but it says “Petition closed”?

  2. Heather Kennedy says:

    Brilliant article – thanks for this Sarah. The impact of private companies running care homes is also far ranging and incredibly worrying.

    • Thanks Heather, agreed. The awarding of public service contracts to corporate giants generally is something I think is very worrying, and as Farah from Kazuri points out, it seems to be being left to small voluntary sector organisations and independent commentators like WVoN, Corporate Watch, Stop G4S, Open Democracy and Private Eye to hold these companies to account. Where is government oversight and how are these huge companies getting away with it? And how are they STILL being awarded such huge contracts?

      • I think the answer to why companies like G4S are still being awarded those contracts is quite plain. The people who are awarding contracts are mostly males, the people who are being awarded the contracts are also mostly male. Both have one interest in common, that of making profit/buying services cheaply. They have no interest in the outcome, quality of the service being delivered or the people who are the consumers of the service. That, coupled with arrogance and infinite greed explains most processes in our economy, be it here or any other country.

        • vicki wharton says:

          I agree Petra. I also think, from a subconscious aspect, that it is interesting for the State to lump together services for prisoners with asylum seekers and raped women. I think its an interesting attitude to put these areas out to tender on a cost cutting basis, whereas certain other areas such as the Olympics, were awash with money. Seems like care has become a dirty word in our society, hence one scandal after another in ‘care’ institutions that clearly don’t.

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