Published: 10 November, 2015
by BECKA SEGLOW-HUDSON (above)
I SAW my friend Henry the day before he was deported. In the visitors’ lounge of the detention centre where he had been captive for six weeks, watched by guards, we talked about how the clinical brutality of the place had gnawed at his mind, the several attempted suicides he had witnessed in his time there, the wife and two young children he was being forced to leave in London, and his fears about returning to Kenya, a place he had not seen for 20 years.
Soon visiting hours were up. Babies were prised from fathers’ arms.
Partners, siblings and children stole brief hugs, and detainees were escorted back to their cells. As we visitors walked out, I turned to the electric fence, easily10ft high, which enclosed our loved ones.
A sign was pinned to it: “G4S: Care and Justice Services. We are all one big family, no matter who we are.”
This might sound like a cruelly ironic PR blunder.
It is more than that.
Caring – that basic stuff which produces and sustains us as human beings – has long gone unwaged within the family. Much caring work is now “outsourced”, pitiful wages reflect the value awarded to it.
In many cases, care is being replaced with control, neglect and violence.
Asylum seekers like Henry, the first targets of this perversion, are far from alone now. From 2,000 caring institutions – hospitals, schools, social services, housing, have been encroached upon by an expanding police force.
Social concerns, like someone with mental health difficulties expressing distress in public, are treated as criminal ones.
Some 9,000 people who needed such “immediate care” were taken to police cells rather than hospitals in 2011-12.
Under Prevent legislation, even nursery teachers (could you think of anyone more nurturing?) are obliged to behave like police, in increasingly racist ways, forced to report toddlers they suspect may have “terrorist” sympathies.
“Early intervention” has become a euphemism for state intrusion and criminalisation rather than support.
Prisons are being expanded to fit all these new “criminals” in.
Austerity aggravates this – as Camden found last month, when a man jumped from his window in desperation after firefighters could not reach the blaze in time. Cutting the budgets of those who care enough to save lives for a living has devastating consequences.
Those of us who are sick and disabled get work capability assessments and sanctions in place of material and social support.
Mothers are deprived of income and services that allow them to raise families; their children taken into state care or adoption in record numbers instead.
It is from women, the primary carers in 90 per cent of families, that chancellor George Osborne has already taken £11billion of his £15billion cuts package.
Internationally we hear pundits argue that “in the long run” it is “kinder” to bomb boats and fortify borders than to welcome refugees, that humanitarian peace-keeping missions should include bombs and guns.
We must reject this insanity.
The week Henry was deported, I began spending time with the Global Women’s Strike at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.
A home to asylum seekers, disabled women, sex workers, queer women, victims of sexual and domestic violence and of police sexism and racism, Crossroads is a place buzzing with the struggle to care.
It might sound confusing, all these groups under one roof. Yet I saw that by organising independently but across boundaries we can appreciate the kaleidoscope of assaults that militate against a caring society and access the collective power to confront them.
As care from institutions recedes, the caring that people – again mostly women – have to do increases.
We organise food, shelter, clothes, childcare, companionship, safety, hospital appointments, court support, justice campaigns, marches, whistle-blowing – we look after each other, and we fight like hell.
All this and more will be discussed at an international grassroots women’s conference, Caring, Survival and Justice vs the Tyranny of the Market, on Saturday and Sunday November 14 & 15 at WAC Arts, Hampstead Old Town Hall, 213 Haverstock Hill, NW3 4QP.
We hope you will bring your experience and your will to fight to change the world.