Stop forcing mental health workers ‘help’ police criminalise Muslim communities

Reframing Self by Sarbjit Johal

Sarbjit Johal reveals GMMH Trust’s involvement in the development of Vulnerability Support Hubs (VSHubs) funded by the NHS, Home Office and the counter-terrorism police

A recent Medact report  (’Racism, Mental health and pre-crime policing, the ethics of Vulnerability Support Hubs’ May 2021) has highlighted the increasing securitization in mental health provision. Vulnerablity Support Hubs (VSHs) are being developed in three areas of the UK. These Hubs are ‘a secretive mental health – related project run by UK counter-terrorism police that disproportionately targets, impacts and ultimately harms racialised communities.’

Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust is involved in the Northern hub.

Thousands of individuals suspected of potential ‘extremism’ – a vague and racialised term which the government itself has tried and failed to legally define – have been assessed by the hubs, in which mental health professionals collude with counterterrorism police officers. Using a series of Freedom of Information requests the report highlights the increasing blurring of boundaries between security and care. The activities of the Hubs push mental health professionals into work that is beyond the health remit and encourage health workers to ‘monitor’ patients, and help conduct ‘combined’ mental health and terrorism risk assessments.

Muslims are at least 23 times more likely to be referred to a VSH for “Islamism” than a white British individual is for ‘Far Right’ extremism. Once referred to a VSH, based on the health officials gut instincts, suspicions or observations of what they perceive as odd behaviour in the patient, VSHs are places where the individual is now under pressure to consent to whatever is being suggested. They might have to agree to a mental health diagnosis or say yes to increased surveillance of their activities. Or they may have to agree to have their behaviour and speech observed and assessed or be questioned about their medication compliance if they are already a mental health patient. This is all to see if the person who has already been identified as showing ‘signs of extremism’ is now showing ‘signs of future criminal activity’.

These Hubs are an extension of the Prevent agenda. Activists have shown that Prevent is a surveillance programme targeting and monitoring people primarily in the Muslim community. They could be people who are demanding their democratic rights for equality and justice, they may be people speaking out against government domestic, trade and foreign polices (upholding right wing regimes with leaders like India’s Modi, Brazil’s Bolsonaro, or Israel’s Netanyahu) or they maybe people organising against the racist scapegoating of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They could also just be  Muslim people resisting the welfare cuts to Nurseries, Youth centres and etc their communities or people just practicing their faith.

Vulnerability Support Hubs (VSHubs) started off as a pilot project funded by the NHS, Home Office and the counter-terrorism police.  Now we find this pilot project has become a national scheme and is being rolled out by the police via ‘Project Cicero’.

Altogether, there are three VSHubs. They are in Manchester (North), Birmingham (Central) and London (South). Greater Manchester Mental Health is involved in the northern hub.

In 2016, Vulnerability Support Hubs were just ‘helping’ the police in pre-criminal stages of the Prevent programme. But now they’ve become ‘spaces’ for health professionals to help police with their live investigations and prosecutions. This Medact report refers to a case study from the North Hubs which show that Hubs are now effectively ‘tools of intelligence gathering’ for active police investigations.

by Felicia Chand, reproduced from Inqilab, South Asia Solidarity Group’s  magazine, 1991

So, VSHs are not actually supposed to provide health care for people suffering mental health issues. They are designed to be centres for the police to gather information on people and especially from young Muslims, some as young as 6 years old and others are teenagers. The Hubs promote a mental health diagnosis and treatment within a conventional medical model. This encourages police and mental health workers to see Muslim communities through a ‘criminal lens’ rather than provide health care and address their health needs as ‘patients’. 

In 2015 the government made the Prevent programme a statutory duty for all public bodies including NHS trusts. Health workers were expected to report people they thought were showing signs of being “ vulnerable to radicalisation”. These signs can be anything from expressing a need for an identity or status, being excited or showing comradeship or just having a desire for adventure.  In 2020, Medact research found that Muslims were at least eight times more likely than non- Muslims – and Asians at least four times more likely than non-Asians – to be referred to Prevent.

These VSHubs also get referrals for the Prevent counter-terrorism programme from people living in precarious social and economic conditions. They maybe homeless and unemployed because they cannot access public funds. They are pathologised and criminalised. In the current racist hostile environment, as migrants with insecure immigration status, they are likely to be passed on to detention centres and face the threat of deportations. (Medact report, P41)

Sumayyah Ashrab, Humayara Tasnim, Tahyhba Ahmed, students suspended organising against the racism of Prevent policies, Newham <https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/06/12/newvic-islamophobia-_n_7567992.html>  2015

Resistance movements have always highlighted the role of unequal power structures in the scapegoating of Muslim, Black, migrant and vulnerable communities.  Present government policies from health and welfare cuts, to foreign and domestic immigration policies and the erosion of workers rights have led to increasing anger at the social and economic conditions being inflicted on BAME communities. The criminalisation of protest can be seen from a school  student  in Manchester who was suspended recently for shouting ‘Free Palestine”. These VSHubs are part of the current government strategy to criminalise all those who dare to demand their rights and speak out against injustice.

Let’s not forget the racism experienced by students and teachers in Birmingham under the governments Islamophobic Trojan Horse operation. These Hubs are going to deter vulnerable communities from accessing Health and Care services through the distrust that they create. As these VSHubs are not designed to meet our health, welfare or caring needs, we have no choice but to support the campaign to close them down. With support from the 1.2 million workers in the NHS of whom 248 400 (20.7%) are from BAME backgrounds, I am sure we can win!

Health Services NOT Control and Criminalisation!

Stop state repression, Stop silencing of dissent!

Close down all Vulnerable Support Hubs! 

Fighting for an alternative by Sarbjit Johal

Published by CHARM Greater Manchester

CHARM, the Community for Holistic, Accessible, Rights Based Mental Health was launched by The Organic Recovery Learning Community in September 2020.

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