The Prime Minister rightly described modern slavery as “the great human rights issue of our time”. We could not agree more and we wish to emphasise, at the beginning of our report, the importance of the initiative the Prime Minister made (as Home Secretary) in introducing world-leading legislation to counter modern slavery. The aim of this report is to begin, with the Government, the development of stage two of our country’s counter-slavery policy that builds on the 2015 legislative framework. This report is concerned with the creation of a world-leading structure of services that cares for and protects, as effectively as we can, the victims who have escaped from slavery.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a pioneering piece of legislation that proved the UK’s commitment to eradicating this horror. Among its many achievements, the Act established new protections for recognised victims of slavery. However, it did not secure a pathway for their recovery.
The Government estimates that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK, originating from around the world and the UK itself. Potential victims are referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the framework for assessing whether someone is a victim of slavery. The evidence we took from victims of modern slavery was particularly valuable to our work.
Following their conclusive confirmation as victims of slavery, the support individuals receive depends on their immigration status, nationality, ability to work and whether they are assisting the police with an investigation. The position of modern slavery victims contrasts with that of refugees. 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.
Treating confirmed victims of modern slavery of different nationalities differently, has created a confusing landscape that is poorly understood by victims and professionals alike. As a result some victims face destitution or even a return to their enslavers because they have no ongoing access to support. We recommend that all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year’s leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services. We reject the argument that this would create a pull factor to the UK, for slave masters or victims.
No data is collected on victims once they leave the NRM and we heard that the collection and recording of data generally was substandard. The Government does not monitor the re-trafficking of victims. This is unacceptable. Any reform to the NRM must include the recording of instances where victims have been processed through the framework more than once.
Allowing victims to access support in the UK is not just a humanitarian matter. Baroness Butler-Sloss, Trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation, told us that the lack of proper support for victims had 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. This can result in the inexcusable scenario that abusers go free because their victims are not supported adequately to give evidence against them. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should undertake an urgent review of the benefit support available to victims, including those who are assisting the police with investigations.
Referrals of potential victims to the NRM are increasing each year. There were 3,266 in 2015, a 40-percent increase on the year before, while many others remain undetected. DWP will come into contact with a high proportion of victims at some point—either through benefit claims or the allocation of National Insurance numbers.
Front-line DWP staff are often not aware of modern slavery and training on how to spot signs of slavery needs to be improved. In addition, DWP staff do not always know how to deal sensitively with identified victims. This is distressing for victims and may prevent them from accessing the support they need to move on from their safe house. We recommend that all frontline DWP staff are trained in identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. The Department should also extend the arrangement trialled at the Leeds Jobcentre and include Social Justice Work Coaches for Jobcentres in other areas where victims of modern slavery are prevalent.
DWP has already recognised that victims of domestic violence need to be treated differently in the benefits system because of the trauma they have suffered. Victims of modern slavery have also lived through terrible experiences and DWP should introduce benefit easements and concessions for them, equivalent to those for victims of domestic violence.
The Government offers a 45-day reflection and recovery period for victims as they go through the NRM. This period exceeds international treaty obligations but unfortunately it will often take victims much longer to start putting their lives back together. There is very little structured support for confirmed victims once they have been given a ‘Conclusive Grounds’ decision from the NRM that they are a modern slavery victim. The Welsh Government has introduced a Survivor Care Pathway, which has demonstrated that ongoing victim support can assist both with the rebuilding of lives and the successful investigation of modern slavery offences. We recommend that all victims of modern slavery be given a personal plan which details their road to recovery, and acts as a passport to support, for at least the 12 month period of discretionary leave.
The Prime Minister told us that her Government is committed to doing everything possible to support victims of modern slavery. To meet the Prime Minister’s pledge, the Government must introduce a system that will help victims to start piecing their lives back together. Not only is there a moral case for doing this but it can help to bring the perpetrators of these horrendous crimes to justice.
27 April 2017