Serco and Asylum Seeker Lock-change Evictions

Part of Children’S Future Food Report – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 27th June 2019.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 4:15 pm, 27th June 2019

It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I rise to discuss the very important and serious matter of Serco and its announcement to press ahead with asylum seeker lock-change evictions. In giving a bit of background, I will be mentioning a number of organisations that have expressed their concerns, both publicly and to me. They include: the Scottish Refugee Council, Positive Action in Housing, the Govan Law Centre, the Govan Community Project, Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government and, of course, the Tenants Union’s Living Rent campaign, whose badge I proudly wear today.

Earlier this month, Serco announced that it was going to restart its inhumane lock-changing programme, which could leave hundreds of asylum seekers homeless and destitute in the city of Glasgow. I and my colleagues in the Scottish National party want to prevent these evictions and future evictions from taking place. Serco currently has a contract with the Home Office for the provision of asylum accommodation in Scotland. The recent threat to evict 300 asylum seekers on to the streets of Glasgow without any consultation only strengthens the arguments that a public sector bid for those contracts would have been the best way forward.

As my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald who serves on the Home Affairs Committee knows, in January 2017 the Committee published a highly critical asylum accommodation report. It made system-wide recommendations; uncovered unacceptable housing standards and insufficient recognition of needs, such as mental health, torture, sexual violence and trafficking; and raised serious questions about the rigour, consistency and lack of public transparency in the Home Office’s performance management regime of its three housing contractors across the United Kingdom.

I do not want to discuss the merits of live legal proceedings in this place—indeed that would not be right—but it is a concern that I have a constituent who is subject to live legal proceedings in Scotland’s supreme appellate court, the Inner House of the Court of Session, and I am surprised that both the Home Office and Serco have decided to press ahead with these lock-change evictions while the matter is still to be settled in the courts. Labelling asylum seekers as “failed” is not the sort of language that we should be using when discussing some of the most vulnerable in our society. The asylum system and process can be very lengthy and very complicated, and using labels such as “failed” is entirely unhelpful.

The Scottish Refugee Council has also expressed its concerns on the matter. Serco’s announcement on 12 June was made to Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government, but not to Members of Parliament from Glasgow. We did not get that until we saw the press release. The public statement caused great concern. Of course, we were written to by the Immigration Minister on 17 June regarding the announcement and the lock-change eviction plan. It is clear that this is a co-ordinated action between the Home Office and Serco. Like the Scottish Refugee Council, I oppose these actions, and I want to focus on some of what Serco is up to.

No one should be rendered street homeless, and certainly never, ever without the protection of court due process. There is a wider strategic importance in Glasgow continuing to resist and overcome the clear housing and due process gaps in the current asylum system that will have relevance to other parts of the UK, especially other asylum dispersal areas such as the north of England, the midlands, south Wales and Belfast. We are clear that what is happening in Glasgow—with multinationals such as Serco intending to evict vulnerable people and render them immediately street homeless through callous, traumatising and possibly still unlawful lock changes—is an extreme symptom of a failed and broken Home Office approach to its responsibilities under the refugee convention and EU asylum legal instruments to prevent the destitution of those seeking refugee protection.