Government has ‘moral duty’ to help victims of modern slavery to rebuild lives, say campaigners

02 February 2018

PA

Protesters during a “Walk for Freedom” organised by the global anti-trafficking group A21 at Westminster, in October

Protesters during a “Walk for Freedom” organised by the global anti-trafficking group A21 at Westminster, in October

VICTIMS of modern slavery in the UK are being denied the support that they need to rebuild their lives, leaving many at risk of further exploitation, campaigners have warned.

Currently, those who have been rescued from exploitation are guaranteed only 14 days of support services, including financial assistance, medical advice and treatment, and counselling.

The Government announced last October that it would extend this period to 45 days, but it has yet to implement this. A new campaign group, Free for Good, is pushing for people who are confirmed as victims to be given support for up to a year.

The Labour MP Frank Field and the Conservative peer Lord McColl have sponsored a new Bill to amend the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to increase the level of support. The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill was passed unanimously by MPs, but is now stuck in the House of Lords.

The campaign, Free for Good, has been launched by a coalition of charities working with victims of modern slavery, including CARE and the Human Trafficking Foundation.

At the campaign launch last week, Mr Field said that the Government “must act now, or be forced to act”, and Lord McColl said that the Government had a “moral duty” to increase support for the victims of slavery.

Without support, victims will be less likely to be able to give evidence in court against their traffickers, campaigners warn, and without financial assistance they will be at risk of further exploitation.

Kate Roberts, from the Human Trafficking Foundation, said that support was needed for much longer than the 45-day government extension, if victims were to begin to rebuild their lives.

She said: “Many victims do not begin to process the trauma they have experienced until much later than 45 days after the decision about their victim status is made. To feel able to begin this psychological recovery, many victims need to have certainty that they will have somewhere to stay, and food to eat, for a sustained period of time.

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“Moreover, the additional 45 days will not remove the risk of destitution and re-trafficking. At present, those victims who do not have the right to stay in the UK beyond the 45 days they will need to seek special discretionary leave to remain. However, many applications are not processed within this time. So, when the 45 days is over, destitution and re-trafficking will be a significant risk, while victims wait for a decision about their future without support.

“The Prime Minister has rightly said she wants to lead the world in efforts to tackle slavery. The Modern Slavery Act was a major step forward, but it does not secure a pathway for recovery.”

Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests by The Guardian found that, although the number of reports under the Act had gone up dramatically, the number of those charged with offences had declined.

Thames Valley Police is one of seven forces that laid no charges, despite receiving 203 reported cases under the Modern Slavery Act from April 2015 to November 2017.

New figures from the National Crime Agency for the three months up to October last year show that there were 1322 victims of modern slavery identified a ten-per-cent rise on the previous three months.

The chief executive of CARE, Nola Leach, said: “If victims do not have a guarantee of sustained support, they are unlikely to feel safe and secure enough to be give evidence to police investigations. Cases have been reported of victims’ becoming homeless after leaving the safe house, and police being unable to trace them to take their testimony, leaving the victims at severe risk of being re-trafficked and their abusers going away unpunished.”

A refuge centre for women escaping trafficking, Bakhita House, set up by the Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, recently supported in court three women who gave evidence against their captors, securing their conviction.

Karen Anstiss, who manages the centre, commended the courage of all the women in testifying against their captors, and thanked staff and volunteers at the refuge, who had supported the women through their recovery and helped them to “look forward to the future with hope”.

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