Channel 4 report shows true brutality of detention centres

Channel 4's undercover investigation into Yarl's Wood detention centre won't be broadcast in full until tonight, but already it has revealed startling levels of brutality.

Serco, which runs the centre, has suspended one member of staff. It has promised to take further disciplinary action "wherever appropriate". The company has launched an independent review into its conduct in the centre. The Home Office has also told G4S, which delivers health services in the centre, to be prepared to launch a review.

The film shows guards caught on secret cameras, with one saying:

"They're all animals, they're caged animals. Take a stick in with you and beat them up."

Another says:

"Black women. They're fucking horrible mate."

Another piece of footage sees one say:

"Headbutt the bitch. I'd beat her up".

Investigators heard of a pregnant woman who collapsed at the centre and was taken to hospital. She later learned she had a miscarriage and was sent back to the centre.
The next day she went to the G4S-run healthcare centre in a state of extreme distress, while bleeding. She was told off for "refusing to wait her turn" and calling an ambulance of her own accord. She was not seen by a midwife for four hours, when she immediately called an ambulance.

The programme suggests assurances by Home Office minister Lord Bates that there had been no incidents of self-harm at Yarl's Wood was false, with 74 incidents reported in 2013 alone.

One officer said:

"They are all slashing their wrists apparently. Let them slash their wrists."

The programme heard inmates were jumping down a stairwell, with one breaking her own back.

The video footage gives us an unusually intimate portrait of the way detention guards speak behind closed doors, but these stories are told constantly by detainees, nurses and guards themselves, who are sometimes willing to talk on condition of anonymity.

These are not isolated incidents. They are the result of the lack of scrutiny in detention centres, the cultural pressures surrounding them and the incentives laid down by ministers.

Prisons and detention centres have been almost entirely closed off from public scrutiny. Prisons are off-limits to journalists unless governors authorise it, which they never do. Under Chris Grayling particularly, access to prison has been closed off in all but name.

The same goes for immigration detention centres. Individuals can go in to speak with specific detainees, but not with recording equipment. Those who do go frequently report harassment and bullying by staff. Hardly any photographs or videos exist showing what the centres are like inside. It is essential to their continued operation that they are easy for the public not to think about.

The popular pressure on behaviour is all negative. With the media debate so toxic on immigration, the demands on staff and management is on the fast removal of immigrants, rather than their care. That's why Rule 35, which is supposed to protect victims of torture from being locked up, is not followed or implemented properly. That's why checks for women who have been raped or people who have been trafficked are not working: because they are not a political priority. The political priority is getting people into fast track detention – where they are denied proper access to a lawyer or any real opportunity to make their case for asylum – and out the country.

Meanwhile, the example set by ministers is particularly damaging. Take Isa Muazu, whose case was reported by this website at the tail end of 2013. Even after a hunger strike which lasted months and warnings that he was at risk of death, Theresa May ordered his deportation. Take the asylum seekers secretly deported back to Somalia, despite the fact there is no such thing as a safe deportation back to that country. Take the case of Aderonke Apata, a lesbian from Nigeria, who will go to the high court tomorrow to fight her case against deportation to a country where her sexuality is an imprisonable offence.

The mix of these three factors – secrecy, negative political pressure and ministerial example – is unlikely to produce a healthy or compassionate environment.

The Home Office wants to address detention in an isolated way – a review of medical care here, a review into Serco management there. But there can be no proper assessment of the moral disaster we have created until we investigate the system as a whole.

Update 17:18GMT:

Yvette Cooper MP, Labour’s shadow home secretary, commented:

"It should not have been left to SERCO to commission an independent review into the running of Yarl’s Wood. Theresa May should have done this when allegations first surfaced about sexual abuse by employees at the Centre – and should certainly not have renewed SERCO’s contract before carrying out a full investigation into the running of Yarl’s Wood.

"Kate Lampard is an incredibly experienced barrister, with real expertise in rooting out wrongdoing where victims voices have been ignored. I welcome the fact she will scrutinise what has been going on at Yarl’s Wood. But it is totally unacceptable that the Government did not do this over a year ago. 

"It is Theresa May's responsibility to make sure people are treated humanely - she is completely failing to do so."

Immigrants aren't taking your job

One of the things about immigration which makes it so politically explosive is the way it plays on the fears of right and left. For the right, it signifies a dilution of indigenous British culture. For the left, it threatens to dampen worker's wages and living standards by allowing foreigners to compete for jobs. Many in the Labour party and beyond look at youth unemployment levels and fear immigrants are at least partly responsible.

Except it isn't true. New research from the London School of Economics (LSE) found immigration does not keep down wages or lead to an increase in unemployment. They don't even disproportionately take new jobs. In short, the economic effects we presumed of immigration appear to be false.

Researchers collected data from British counties, comparing their unemployment rate for UK workers with changes in their immigration share. There was no correlation.

Of course, the fact there was no average effect might just have been masking changes in the low wage market, where many immigrants tend to find work. But again, the authors found no connection between changes in a counties' immigration rate and the number of people who left school at 16 and were not in education, employment or training. Counties which experienced the largest rises in immigrants experienced neither larger nor smaller rises in native-born unemployment.

Once they were satisfied immigration wasn't increasing unemployment, authors switched their attention to wages. Here again, they could find little evidence of a strong correlation between changes in wages of the UK-born and local area immigration.

Finally, the paper looked at new jobs. There is a fairly common assertion among politicians and journalists that immigrants are taking all of them, typified by Boris Johnson's concerns about why sandwich chain Pret a Manger always seems to be full of foreign workers. Again, it's nonsense. The actual immigrant share of jobs which have lasted less than three months is broadly the same as the share of immigrants in the working age population.

As the authors noted:

"On balance, the evidence on the UK labour market suggests that fears about adverse consequences of rising immigration regularly seen in opinion polls have not, on average, materialised. There is still no evidence of an overall negative impact of immigration on jobs, wages, housing or the crowding out of public services. Any negative impacts on wages of less skilled groups are small. One of the largest impacts of immigration seems to be on public perceptions."

The right wing fear of immigration has always shown a remarkable lack of faith in the endurance and strength of British culture. This very old, very consistent country has far more effect on the character of those who inhabit it than they do upon it, although the changes they do bring - to food, culture and general vitality - are very welcome. It now appears the left's concerns are no more valid than the right's.

How long will it be before the UK realises that immigration is a win-win, for immigrants and Brits alike?

Britain doesn't know how good it's got it

The British capacity for grumbling is a well-established national trait, but it is now approaching the level of delusion.

Two stories dominate the headlines today: immigration and the BBC. Both show how we have taken remarkable success stories and turned them into something to moan about.

The report by the Commons media committee raises the prospect of the end of the licence fee, the dismantling of the corporation's oversight structure and a severe restriction in the breadth of content the BBC offers.

Before considering the proposals, it's worth taking a moment to look at how the BBC is perceived. According to YouGov, it has trust levels of 61% among the public, higher than 55% for ITV, 45% for the broadsheets, 22% for the midmarket tabloids who so regularly chastise it, and 13% for the red tops. It certainly has more than the MPs who wrote the report, who are only trusted by 24% of people.

Overseas, the BBC is a byword for impartiality and reliability. It is one of the greatest examples of Britain's soft-power, a brand with value its private sector critics can only dream of.

Trust in the corporation took a knock after the Jimmy Savile affair, falling from 6.8 out of ten in September 2012 to six in November. But by January 2013 it was already up to 6.5. The BBC brand is remarkably resilient.

And that's because, despite its many detractors on right and left, the absence of commercial interests makes the BBC a much more reliable news provider than its competitors.

Critics constantly call for it to do less, because what it does, it does so well. This argument is entirely circular: if it's good, it must pull back because it restricts competition. If it's bad, there'd be no reason to have it at all. The only real end point of the criticism of the BBC is to dismantle it.

The same sentiment could be perceived as countless journalists branded rising immigration numbers a "disaster". In fact, they are saving our economy. As the Economist graph below, which was constructed using Office of Budget Responsibility figures, shows, a rise in immigration is needed to get our national finances back on track.

The simple fact is we have too many old people - and not enough young people working to fund the services they need for their care. Immigrants provide a very effective solution for this problem. We don't need to pay for the education of working age immigrants. They are typically physically healthy. But when they work and pay tax they contribute disproportionately to the public services which care for our elderly. 

The fact so many want to come here is proof that Britain is still considered a land of opportunity, where you can get a job and get on, somewhere where cartels and prejudice will not stop you reaching the top. We should be proud of that reputation. It is not to be dismissed lightly.

A growing economy, which is seen to allow people to reach their full potential, in a country which can boast a world-leading broadcaster with unparalleled levels of public trust at home and abroad. This is what Britain is complaining about today. Sometimes the British moan is endearing. Sometimes it is just absurd.

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