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"Inexcusable" lack of support for modern slavery victims

30 April 2017

The Work and Pensions Committee publishes its report on Victims of modern slavery. In this report the Committee says failures in the UK's system for dealing with modern slavery are allowing the “inexcusable” scenario of victims reduced to destitution while their abusers go free because they are not adequately supported to testify against them. 

Front line support is weak and uncoordinated

Front line support is weak and uncoordinated and instances where a person is re-trafficked are not even recorded. This helps to explain the country's appalling conviction record.

It is estimated there are between 10,000 and 13,000 slaves - victims of modern slavery - in the UK, but the current mechanism for identifying and supporting them out of slavery means that victims, once identified, have no automatic formal immigration status or rights and are often faced with a total lack of understanding or even recognition of their situation.

The Committee heard testimony of one victim, Client M, who "escaped from his traffickers but it took four years before someone recognised that he was a potential victim of modern slavery … the adviser in the Jobcentre [who knew his story] did not pick up on that … he lost four years before someone finally offered him the help and pointed him where he should go further".

The Committee heard direct, private evidence of frontline staff totally unprepared to deal with victims of modern slavery. One woman recounted how, when trying to obtain a National Insurance Number, her account of her situation was greeted by her the adviser saying, clearly audibly through the room: "Oh my God, you were trafficked. Oh my God, I've only seen that on the television." 

The inquiry was instigated at the request of the UK's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, who wrote to the Committee expressing his concerns that the support on offer to someone conclusively determined to be a victim of modern slavery is "inadequate", while Baroness Butler-Sloss has said that the outcome of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) process is "nothing but a piece of paper" to victims. 

Key findings

The Committee says:

  • The lack of awareness, training and understanding, and lack of proper support for victims is having a negative impact on the number of successful prosecutions of slave masters.  Thousands of victims have not come forward, while others who have chosen to give evidence against their enslavers have ended up destitute as a result of insufficient support, and unable to testify against their abusers.
  • No data is collected on victims once they leave the NRM and the collection and recording of data is "generally substandard". The Government does not monitor the re-trafficking of victims – an "unacceptable" situation. Reform to the NRM must include the recording of instances where victims have been processed through the framework more than once.
  • While recognition as a refugee grants an initial period of five years' leave to remain in the UK, recognition as a victim of slavery through the NRM confers no equivalent right to remain, for any period.
  • All confirmed victims of modern slavery should be given at least one year's leave to remain with a personal plan for their recovery, which should act as a social passport to support for at least the 12 month period of leave to remain.  Committee rejects the argument that this would create a pull factor to the UK, for slave masters or victims.
  • Front-line DWP staff are often not aware of modern slavery and training on how to spot signs of slavery and deal sensitively with identified victims needs to be greatly improved.
  • The Department for Work and Pensions must undertake an urgent review of the benefit support available to victims, including those who are assisting the police with investigations. Treating confirmed victims of modern slavery of different nationalities differently, has created a confusing landscape that is poorly understood by victims and professionals alike.

Chair's comments

Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"While we applaud the leading role the UK has taken in tackling this "barbaric crime", as the Prime Minister has called it, when you consider what is at stake, there is a shocking lack of awareness and co-ordination in the front line services dealing with modern slavery.  What these people go through is unimaginable, and yet it is happening, here, now, and our response seems almost lackadaisical: a paper exercise earning you recognition as having been enslaved, which then entitles you to almost nothing as far as we can see.  We don't even record instances where the same person is thrown back into this hell, even though that is surely the clearest sign of the failures in our response.

No society worth its salt can allow this to continue, or fail to support those who fall victim. The Prime Minister now needs to open up a further front in her Modern Slavery Act. The incoming Government must conduct an urgent review of our national response and put in place some basic minimum safeguards, status, that will allow a person to begin to rebuild a life, testify against their abuser if they feel able, and above all, be protected from the unimaginable but real possibility of falling victim again." 

Further information

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