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COVID and Homelessness: Ten things to know

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/12/2021 - 12:34am in

I was recently invited by the The Economics Society of Northern Alberta to speak at their 2022 Outlook Conference about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on homelessness.

Here’s an overview of my presentation: https://nickfalvo.ca/covid-and-homelessness-ten-things-to-know/

COVID and Homelessness: Ten things to know

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/12/2021 - 12:34am in

I was recently invited by the The Economics Society of Northern Alberta to speak at their 2022 Outlook Conference about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on homelessness.

Here’s an overview of my presentation: https://nickfalvo.ca/covid-and-homelessness-ten-things-to-know/

Meet the Companies for Which Asylum Policy is Big Business

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 09/12/2021 - 11:18pm in

Meet the Companies for Which Asylum Policy is Big Business

Firms are winning multi-million-pound contracts to run immigration-related services – despite track records of poor provision and health and safety violations. The Byline Intelligence Team with The Citizens reports

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Five companies have won £5.8 billion worth of contracts since 2010 to run asylum and migrant services – despite being beset by complaints and scandals, according to new analysis by the Byline Intelligence Team and The Citizens. 

The largest of these contracts was won by the outsourcing giant Serco, which was awarded funds worth at least £2.18 billion to deliver a range of services linked to asylum.

This review of the £5,775,065,579 worth of total contracts, comes as the Government toughens its rules “to exclude under-performing suppliers” including those with a “track record of poor delivery, fraud or corruption.”

But the track record of those providing asylum services include housing provision that has been criticised for poor health and safety, judicial reviews, companies facing sanctions for unrelated contracts, and people seeking asylum left without support.

A spokesperson from SOAS Detainee Support told Byline Times: “The capitalist, globalised border industry encompasses a network of private contractors reaping massive profits from border enforcement, detention, deportation, and surveillance. The UK is among the biggest profiteers, with British mega-companies like Serco, G4S, and Mitie harming migrants not just here but around the world.”

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A Series of Scandals 

Back in 2019, The National reported that Serco had faced fines “for failing to meet the terms of its contract to provide accommodation for asylum seekers in Scotland and Northern Ireland”. Serco told Byline Times that: “The vast majority of the Service Credits referred to were taken in the early years of the contract prior to 2015, following what we acknowledged to be a very difficult service transition in 2012. Both Serco and the Home Office took issue with the National that the story was substantially inaccurate in that Service Credits are not, and cannot accurately be described as, ‘fines’.”

One of the most recent contracts was given to Mitie, a London-based outsourcing company, which was tasked with running a newly-opened immigration removal centre for women known as Derwentside, in County Durham. Since 2010, Mitie has been awarded contracts worth at least £627 million, including for managing detention centres in Heathrow airport and for providing escort services to people being deported from the UK. Mitie has previously been criticised for its “insanitary” asylum accommodation.

Alongside Serco and Mitie, the housing providers Mears and Clearsprings Ready Homes have also won large contracts to provide immigration-related services, specifically housing for people seeking asylum or who are waiting for their claims to be assessed. 

Clearsprings has been awarded contracts worth at least £996 million since 2010, including to run Napier Barracks, a former army barracks that houses men seeking asylum. In 2019, Mears won three 10-year asylum accommodation contracts worth a total £1.15 billion to run asylum seeker housing in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and in Yorkshire, the Humber and the north-east of England.

Both organisations have faced repeated criticism for the housing support they provide. In June this year, a judicial review found that housing people in barracks such as Napier was “unlawful”, with conditions described as “squalid” and “unsafe”. Nearly 200 people contracted Coronavirus in the estate, which had also caught fire. The judge ruling on the case said: “I do not accept that the accommodation there ensured a standard of living which was adequate for the health of the claimants.”

This was not the first time that Clearsprings has been shown to provide poor housing provision. In 2019, the Guardian reported how refugees were crammed into hostels in Southall, London, which were “overrun with cockroaches, rats and mice”. The hostels were managed by Clearsprings through a subcontractor called Mylondonlets.co.uk.

Another subcontractor working for Clearsprings was Stay Belvedere, accused of paying staff less than the minimum wage. The latter company was also hit by allegations of staff sexually harassing asylum-seeking women staying in its hotel accommodation.

Clearsprings did not respond to a request for comment. 

The accommodation provided by Mears in Glasgow was described by Positive Action In Housing “as the most inhumane we have ever witnessed”. Mears provides accommodation for 5,000 people seeking asylum in the city. 

The report continued, saying that “evidence began to emerge of asylum seekers going hungry, being refused medical treatment having no money to buy sanitary protection, toiletries, mobile phone top ups or bus passes for essential travel”. South of the border, the housing chair at Sheffield Council said Mears should be “sacked”.

Many of the contracts were awarded in 2019 as the Home Office transitioned to a new system for asylum accommodation. According to a report by the charity Refugee Action, transition from one set of Government contracts to another led to the system being “almost fatally disrupted”. It described how the transition meant people seeking asylum “began to experience unacceptable and entirely avoidable destitution. There were… chaotic moves in and between substandard asylum accommodation”.

The final major contract was for Sodexo, with contracts worth at least £525 million. The company was tasked with organising the Aspen prepaid card given to people seeking asylum when they are living in the community. The card provides people with the £39.63 a week they are entitled to, for covering food, clothing, transport and other essentials. People housed in hotels receive an £8 a week allowance. 

Analysis by the charity Refugee Action found that, between 2019 and 2020, its clients faced average delays of 15 days to receive a functioning Aspen card once they were in their asylum accommodation. This was in addition to the average wait of 40 days that service users experienced from the point of their application for asylum support to the point of their dispersal. In this time, they were dependent on charitable handouts or destitute. 


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Policies and Profits

The decision to continue to award housing and detention centre contracts to organisations that have been criticised for various health and safety failures demonstrates the Government’s commitments to its much-criticised policies on asylum – and how private interests benefit from those policies.

Take, for example, the case of Napier Barracks. The Home Office justified the decision to house vulnerable people in former army barracks because housing people in more “generous” accommodation would “undermine public confidence in the asylum system”. It was, put simply, a way to look tough on immigration. 

In such cases, the policy leads to the contracts – and the contracts then bolster the policies. 

Then there’s Derwentside. For years, activists campaigned to close down Yarls Wood and end the detention of women seeking asylum or facing deportation. While Yarls Wood’s usage changed, this new centre was created. 

Before Derwentside opened this autumn, women were held in Yarls Wood, a centre run by Serco which has historically faced accusations about the behaviour of its guards since it opened in 2001, including through undercover footage taken by Channel 4 News in 2015. Serco told Byline Times that since this was reported: “Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons (HMCIP) and the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) have reported independently on Yarl’s Wood and have had full access to the establishment, the staff and the residents. In the words of HMCIP ‘a high proportion of detainees told us they were treated with respect by staff’ and rated Yarl’s Wood in this area ahead of other comparable establishments.’ Their full report can be found here.”

Serco also explained that allegations around Yarls Wood and those made in the National were historic, that it is now under new leadership and a “trusted supplier to Government.”

The Home Office’s own equality impact assessment of the new centre in Derwentside found that women pose very little security risk, and acknowledged the need to significantly reduce the number of women in detention. It also made clear that, because women held in detention are often survivors of gender-based violence, and therefore vulnerable, they should be detained only where immigration control considerations outweigh vulnerability considerations. 

The impact of immigration detention on mental health is known and recorded. And yet the policy continues – with big profits available to the companies that win the contracts.

“The opening of Derwentside and Mitie’s multimillion-pound contract to run it shows just how much the UK Government and companies are prioritising profit over the safety and wellbeing of human beings,” explained a spokesperson from SOAS Detainee Support. “The border industrial complex is only profitable so long as there are people who can be surveilled, detained, and deported.”

“There is absolutely no need for detention centres to exist,” they added. “The majority of people detained are released, meaning the government never really had grounds to detain them in the first place. Detention only serves to further traumatise the people locked inside, including women who need support and community. Our friends who have been detained at Yarl’s Wood tell us just how atrocious the conditions are for women, and we have no doubt Derwentside will be the same if not worse.”

Mitie, Mears and Sodexo did not respond to requests for comment.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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The post Meet the Companies for Which Asylum Policy is Big Business appeared first on Byline Times.

This Lawyer Thinks Boris Johnson Could be Prosecuted for Misconduct. Here’s Why, and How

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/12/2021 - 11:15pm in

This Lawyer Thinks Boris Johnson Could be Prosecuted for MisconductHere’s Why & How

There are grounds to pursue a legal case against the Prime Minister and his Cabinet over their role in the COVID pandemic, a leading barrister says

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“It’s not just Boris Johnson – he’s not the only one in this ballgame,” says Michael Mansfield QC, chair of the People’s COVID Inquiry, who has told Byline Times that there are grounds for prosecuting the Prime Minister, members of his Cabinet, and former ministers, for their role in Britain’s COVID calamity.

The inquiry, organised by campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public, spent four months collating evidence from more than 50 witnesses – spanning from public health experts to members of the public – about the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Government’s handling of the pandemic was grossly negligent and has unquestionably led to significant loss of life that could and should have been avoided,” the report concludes, which has been released today. “Those in charge during the pandemic showed a wilful disregard for public safety and a callousness toward the numbers of people who have died and their bereaved relatives.”

These beliefs have been held by members of the scientific community, the public and activists for some time. As the UK’s former chief scientist Sir David King told Byline Times back in May: the Government could have saved more than 100,000 lives during the pandemic, if it had taken a more cautious approach, and if local public health teams had been empowered rather than the private sector.

However, there has so far been an absence of ideas about how exactly those responsible can be brought to justice. With Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party still clinging onto its lead in the polls – and with only a handful of ministerial resignations during the pandemic – it appears as though there is little accountability for this public health disaster.

Through the People’s COVID Inquiry, Mansfield – a barrister and head of Nexus Chambers – has been giving some thought to this question, and believes there is a case for Cabinet ministers – both present and former – to be held legally responsible for their misconduct in public office.

Speaking to the Byline Times Podcast, Mansfield highlighted that a common law does exist, allowing prosecutions based on “offences when a public officer wilfully neglects to perform his or her duty to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office-holder, without reasonable excuse or justification.”


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“Is it worthy of condemnation? Has it damaged the public interest? The answer is – yes,” Mansfield says, about the Government’s response to the pandemic. “Whatever can be said about the vaccine, it doesn’t absolve” Johnson and his Cabinet for their other misconduct, he adds.

Such a high-profile case would need to be considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mansfield says, and would need to be pursued by the Metropolitan Police – on the basis of the evidence presented by the People’s COVID Inquiry.

At the very least, Mansfield says, the Director of Public Prosecutions would be wise to reflect on how to approach accusations of misconduct against the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. “A number of people are already thinking about this, in general terms,” Mansfield says – in relation to potential legal cases against the Government.

However, culpability does not just lie at the door of Downing Street. The Government conducted two pandemic planning exercises in 2016, under the direction of former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. One of these exercises, named Cygnus, exposed the inadequacy of the Government’s planning – yet no action was taken to strengthen public health services or to stockpile key supplies.

Therefore, at the outset of the pandemic – as the National Audit Office has highlighted – the Government’s stockpile contained enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to cope for just two weeks, including aprons to last for just six days. Some of the equipment had also passed its expiry date or did not meet safety standards, including six million respirator masks that had to be tested and re-labelled.

The Government’s approach to the risk of a pandemic – both theoretical and in reality – constituted a “serious failure of planning and anticipation, and I think it does amount to serious misconduct,” Mansfield told the Byline Times Podcast.

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Dogma and Megalomania

Ultimately, these failings are derived from ideology and leadership, he says. It “took them ages” to set up a test and trace system, Mansfield notes, after which they “paid billions to the private sector and it didn’t work”. Indeed, the Government is still employing 1,200 private sector consultants on its testing and contact tracing operation, at a cost of more than £1 million a day.

“The public health service is the best way to handle a pandemic. You don’t handle it by pumping taxpayers’ money into the private sector without any competition. The question has to be: the companies that received the funds from Government – were these companies the experts in healthcare? I’m going to suggest that actually none of them knew anything about healthcare,” Sir David King previously told Byline Times.

This situation was exacerbated by the Prime Minister’s own personal behaviour, Mansfield says. Johnson’s leadership style has been plagued by inconsistency. His “policy changes day-to-day,” Mansfield says, “it very much depends on the mood of the moment”.

Commonly, Johnson’s mood has been driven by more radical elements in his party and the media, causing the Government to minimise the threat of COVID-19 – and in some cases to almost deny its existence.

“It’s a combination of political dogma – because it wants to ensure the private sector profits – alongside a kind of megalomania from the person in charge,” Mansfield observes.

A legal case against Johnson and his Cabinet would have to surmount numerous obstacles – not least a system of informal rules and backdoor lobbying that insulates people in high office from the consequences of their own actions. However, as Mansfield highlights, examples are being established abroad – not least in Brazil, where senators have recommended charging President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, with another variant of the disease threatening to cause yet more cases and deaths, the UK Government has still failed to announce the timescale for its official inquiry into the pandemic – as the families of the victims still wait for justice to be served.

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The post This Lawyer Thinks Boris Johnson Could be Prosecuted for Misconduct. Here’s Why, and How appeared first on Byline Times.

UK Bought £500 Million of COVID Tests Six Days After US Drugs Agency Warning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/12/2021 - 1:53am in

UK Bought £500 Million of COVID TestsSix Days After US Drugs Agency Warning

A federal agency warned US consumers ‘not to purchase or use’ certain tests by the firm, days before the UK purchased devices worth hundreds of millions, Sam Bright reports

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The UK Government signed a new deal worth up to £519 million for the procurement of lateral flow tests, just days after the company in question was reprimanded by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Byline Times can reveal.

New records show that on 16 June, the Government signed a contract with Innova Medical Group for lateral flow tests – devices that detect COVID-19 and provide rapid results.

On 10 June, however, Innova was the subject of a letter from the FDA, warning consumers “not to purchase or use” certain COVID-19 testing devices from the firm, that had reportedly breached the FDA’s regulations.

The FDA conducted an inspection of Innova’s facility in Pasadena, California, between 15 March and 9 April this year, and found that the Innova antigen rapid qualitative test (another name for a lateral flow test) had “been distributed in the United States without marketing approval, clearance, or authorisation from FDA”.

The federal agency thus ordered Innova to immediately “cease the sale and distribution of such unapproved, uncleared, and unauthorised products for use in the mitigation, prevention, treatment, diagnosis, or cure of COVID-19”.

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The letter also claims that labels used on Innova devices were “false or misleading” as they did not “accurately reflect the performance estimates observed during the clinical studies of [the] devices”. According to the regulator, the labels boasted of clinical performance that “appears unsupported” – both in terms of data submitted to the FDA and published reports of clinical studies into the Innova test.

“The data reliability and accuracy issues noted herein raise significant concerns that the performance of the SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Qualitative Test has not been adequately established, and that the products distributed by Innova without FDA approval, clearance, or authorisation could present a serious risk to the public health,” the FDA stated.

The inspection also found that the “methods used in, or the facilities or controls used for… manufacture, packing, storage, or installation are not in conformity with the current good manufacturing practice requirements”.

The FDA noted that some changes were implemented in regards to the checking of products and the training of staff, after these errors were identified to the company.

A spokesperson for Innova told Byline Times that the firm is “committed in making the most equitable test with the highest quality.

“The Innova rapid antigen test has been widely used, studied, tested, scrutinised and analysed with data from the largest mass testing programme out of the UK. Innova has delivered on its commitments to the UK’s testing regime throughout the pandemic, during which time it has provided over 2 billion tests globally with no product quality issues raised by regulators in those countries.

“We understand the concern the FDA had for the US market, because it has not evaluated or authorised the Innova test in the US. In simple terms, the regulator won’t confirm a product is safe to use until it has evaluated and authorised a product itself.”

Lateral Thinking

Taking into account the new contract awarded by the UK Government, the total value of contracts awarded to Innova during the pandemic has now comfortably exceeded £3 billion. The firm, based in Pasadena, California, has been the largest supplier of tests to the UK during the pandemic, and subsequently the largest recipient of COVID contracts during the period.

The Government has repeatedly defended the efficacy of Innova’s lateral flow tests. In response to the FDA’s findings, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said that it had found no problems in its own assessment of Innova devices.

“The Innova test has already gone through the UK’s rigorous Porton Down assessment process, and we have a robust quality assurance process in place,” a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson previously told Byline Times. “We have confidence in lateral flow tests, which help us identify people without symptoms but who could pass the virus to others – helping break the chains of transmission.”


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However, multiple controversies have surrounded the UK’s mass deployment of lateral flow tests. Reports earlier this year suggested that the DHSC was repackaging Innova tests, removing labels indicating that the devices are suitable only for professional use on people with COVID-19 symptoms. The Government instead reportedly rebranded them as self-tests that should be used on people without symptoms.

The manufacturer insisted that the tests are only intended for use by trained laboratory personnel, according to the reports. The rebranding exercise was reportedly designed to gain approval from the MHRA for the most flexible use of the devices as quickly as possible.

The National Audit Office (NAO) – the Government’s independent spending watchdog – also reported in June that the Government had lost track of 600 million lateral flow tests. Some 700 million tests had been distributed, the NAO said, but just 96 million had been registered.

In total, the Government’s ‘Test and Trace’ system has been awarded a £37 billion budget for its first two years, and has so far spent an estimated £20.6 billion.

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