The Government must act, or be forced to act on measures to help modern day slavery victims, says major new campaign.
The Campaign, Free For Good, which was launched in Parliament this week, called on the Government to recognise and correct the “shortcomings” in the current legislation, which sees those people identified as victims of slavery guaranteed just 14 days of support.
Free For Good wants the Government to back The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which is being sponsored by Chairman of the Work & Pensions Select Committee, Labour’s Frank Field and the former Conservative shadow health minister Lord McColl. This would provide up to 12 months of support to those who have been exploited. Currently the Bill is stuck in the House of Lords, despite unanimously passing its’ Second Reading in early September.
Speaking at the event, Mr Field said that the Government “must act now, or be forced to act”, while Lord McColl, said that the Government had a “moral duty” to increase support for the victims of slavery.
The intervention by Lord McColl and Mr Field came as it was revealed that 230 MPs had already been lobbied by their constituents, the Co-op pledged to encourage their 4.6 million members to back the campaign and Freedom United’s petition backing the legislation had been signed by 13,000 people in a little over 48 hours.
The Campaign says that extending support would allow the police, social services and charities to offer essential help and assistance to the victims of slavery, many of whom do not speak English, suffer from mental health problems and have on-going legal cases.
Campaigners warn that without the support offered by the Bill it will continue to be difficult for vulnerable victims to give evidence in court with the result that conviction rates for traffickers will remain very low. At present some figures suggest that just 1 per cent of victims of modern slavery ever see their exploiters brought to justice.
Since the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill the Government has announced plans to offer 45 days of support to victims to help their recovery once it is confirmed by the National Referral Mechanism that they have been trafficked.
Lara Bundock, from the Snowdrop project, which is backing the campaign, welcomed the move, but said it was inadequate, adding that it can take up to six week to secure an appointment with specialized legal counsel. While Kate Roberts, from the Human Trafficking Foundation, stressed the importance of providing counselling and safe accommodation to victims for much longer than 45 day after they are confirmed as victims so that they can start to rebuild their lives.
“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, 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. The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill will offer that pathway by putting in place the Work & Pensions Select Committee’s recommendation of 12 months support and residence for victims.”
The Campaign used the launch to highlight the latest UK slavery statistics published by the National Crime Agency (NCA), which identified 1,322 potential victims. The figures covering July to September 2017 showed an increase of around 10 per cent from the previous three months.
It is urging its supporters to contact their local MPs, highlighting the problem and encouraging them to put pressure on the Government to move Lord McColl’s Bill forward, because it has been stuck in the House of Lords since September, despite being passed unanimously at Second Reading.
The Free For Good website has a range of tools for the public to find out more about the Bill, how those concerned can get involved and how they can support this ground-breaking campaign. It helps visitors contact their MP about the Bill and highlights the positive impact it would have on current victims of modern slavery.
The spokesperson for the Campaign concluded: “According to the Home Office this problem affects around 13,000 people across the UK, with many victims being terribly traumatised after years of ill-treatment. So there are many compelling arguments why extending support is desperately needed.
“The Council of Europe’s official monitoring body for the convention on combating trafficking (GRETA), the US State Department and The Work and Pensions Select Committee have all confirmed the importance of providing longer term assistance. This Bill and it measures is also backed by many of the UK’s leading anti-trafficking charities, who see first-hand why it is needed. We hope the Government recognises this and moves forward with what Lord McColl has described as his ‘very reasonable ask’, a view we fully share.”
CARE Chief Executive Nola Leach
“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.”
Hope for Justice Chief Executive Ben Cooley
“Our advocacy work with victims of modern slavery shows just how difficult it can be for survivors to access basic support such as housing and benefits even at the point of leaving a safehouse. For victims to overcome their traumatic experiences and rebuild their lives they need the security of a stable place to live, money to buy food and access to other support services. Lord McColl’s Bill will ensure that modern slavery victims get this basic help, and receive a support worker and a care plan for up to 12 months to help them make that journey to survivor and a life that is free for good.”
Human Trafficking Foundation Head of Office Kate Roberts
“Research has found that the current options for housing and support in the post safe house period are not sufficient for many survivors of modern slavery. The current situation leaves survivors with little realistic opportunity to rebuild their lives, with some ending up destitute, vulnerable to further harm or even being re- exploited. This Bill will do much to put an end to this injustice.”
Snowdrop Project Founder and Director Lara Bundock
“We have seen from experience that without support, victims of modern slavery are vulnerable to homelessness, isolation, substance misuse, abusive relationships, depression and further exploitation. We believe that recovery from human trafficking is a long-term process that often requires committed, consistent and knowledgeable support, which is why the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill is vital to helping rehabilitate victims of slavery.”