THE Government has shared the concerns of religious leaders about the “barbaric crime” of modern slavery, and has pledged £11 million to tackle the crime in countries with a record of human trafficking to the UK. A parliamentary inquiry has also been launched to support the victims.
The funding was announced by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, at a conference hosted by the Roman Catholic group that campaigns against modern slavery, Santa Marta, at the Vatican, last week. It comes from the £33.5 million set aside from the foreign-aid budget by the Prime Minister, in July, specifically to prevent trafficking to the UK.
“Modern slavery is a global crime which demands an international response,” Ms Rudd told the conference. “Only by working together can we win the fight against this barbaric crime, which destroys the lives of the most vulnerable.”
Charities and organisations can bid for a share of a further £3 million, through a child-trafficking protection fund, which has been set up to protect vulnerable children, and to prevent previous victims from going missing or suffering further harm.
The pledge comes after a separate £8.5-million fund to support law enforcement agencies and investigators to combat modern slavery in the UK and abroad was announced by the Home Secretary, last month.
At the conference, Pope Francis said that the “social evil” of human trafficking must be brought to an end. “What is needed is a concerted effort, active and constant, both to eliminate the cause of this complicated phenomenon, and to meet, to assist, and to accompany the people who fall into the traps of trafficking.”
Speaking to members of Santa Marta, which include religious leaders and police chiefs, he also expressed concern for the growing number of victims: “They are helpless: their dignity is stolen, their physical and psychological integrity — and even their life.”
One of the founding members of the group, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, told the conference that awareness of the crime was also spreading, “like an open wound in the flesh of humanity”.
Modern slavery is estimated to affect about 46 million people worldwide, and generate more than £120 million a year in illegal profits. About 11,700 people are thought to be enslaved in the UK.
The Work and Pensions Committee launched its inquiry into victims of modern slavery last week, after the independent anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, expressed concern that victims have had difficulty accessing support and benefits, in his first annual report (News, 21 October). It concluded that “chronic weaknesses”, “substandard” data-collection, and “passivity” on behalf of the police meant that thousands of cases of possible slavery were being missed.
Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, questions have also been raised over the protection of non-EU victims, for whom the process is currently different under the Modern Slavery Act.The Act was brought in last year by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May.
The chairman of the DWP committee, Frank Field, said that the inquiry would support the legislation by gathering evidence on “the most effective ways of helping victims of this evil rebuild their lives”. The deadline for evidence is 11 December.