The UK’s ‘Inexcusable’ Failures in Support for Victims
Thursday, 04 May 2017

The UK’s ‘Inexcusable’ Failures in Support for Victims

A cross-party UK Parliamentary Commons Select Committee has concluded that the campaign against Modern Slavery in the country is failing to give enough support to victims of trafficking.

The Report by the Work and Pensions Committee acknowledges that the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is a pioneering piece of legislation which proves the UK’s commitment to the eradication of slavery and trafficking and provides new protections for victims, but it does not establish a pathway for their recovery.

Its report published 30 April 2017 criticises the government for an “inexcusable” and “shocking” lack of support for rescued slaves. Even when victims of trafficking manage to get away from their captors, many are taken back into slavery, it says.

Rescued slaves are often “reduced to destitution while their abusers go free”; according to the inquiry by the work and pensions select committee, with “weak and uncoordinated” frontline services and an “appalling” record of gangmaster convictions.

Thousands of modern slavery victims have not come forward, while others who have chosen to report their enslavers have ended up destitute as a result of insufficient support, say MPs.

The report also found that no data is collected on victims once they leave the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive protection and support – and that the recording of data that is collected was “generally substandard”.

The Committee said it was “unacceptable” that the Government did not monitor the re-trafficking of victims and urged that reform to the NRM must include the recording of instances where victims have been processed through the framework more than once.

The MPs began the inquiry last October after reports of rescued slaves becoming homeless. The MPs found that they were often unable to claim benefit and one was retrafficked three times.

They heard evidence that DWP (Department for Work & Pensions) frontline staff were “totally unprepared” to deal with modern slavery. One victim fled his abusers and presented himself at a jobcentre trying to claim employment benefit. Staff failed to identify him as a victim for a further four years.

The report said: “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.”

One victim uncovered by Anthony Steen of the Human Trafficking Foundation, an anti-slavery charity, was a 37-year-old Lithuanian. He was rescued from slavery but was picked up by gangmasters again because he had been left destitute — despite being officially confirmed as a slave.

The man, who asked to be named only as Lukas, was trafficked to Liverpool in 2011 by a Lithuanian criminal gang that made him work collecting charity bags from outside houses. He was then sold to travellers in Wiltshire and abused.

Police rescued him in 2013, but Lukas was left homeless and his slave masters were never charged. Desperate for work, he was picked up by criminals in another charity bag collection company in Bristol. Lukas began working for up to 20 hours a day with little or no pay.

He was rescued again in Swindon the following year, and was one of the few victims to take the risk of testifying against his traffickers, who were jailed for 2½ years. Lukas was given shelter in a police safe house for a short period, but charity workers fear he has now been trafficked into slavery a third time.

As part of the inquiry, Baroness Butler-Sloss, Trustee of the Human Trafficking Foundation who helped draft the modern slavery bill in 2014, said the outcome of the NRM process was “nothing but a piece of paper” to victims.

“It is an extremely unattractive anomaly and an extremely expensive process putting a person through the NRM to get a positive outcome that everybody accepts that person is the victim of an appalling crime,” she added.

“At that stage, having spent all that money, having gone through all that process, there is no result except a piece of paper.”

Problems surrounding asylum rights were also noted in the report, in its findings that being a victim of slavery through the NRM confers no equivalent right to remain for any period, while recognition as a refugee grants an initial period of five years’ leave to remain in the UK.

The inquiry, launched at the request of the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner after he wrote to the Committee expressing his concerns that the support for victims of modern slavery was “inadequate”, made a number of urgent recommendations.

It suggested that 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 it said should act as a “social passport” to support for at least the 12-month period of leave to remain.

Training on how to spot signs of slavery and deal sensitively with identified victims should be greatly improved among frontline DWP staff, who are often not aware of modern slavery, the Committee said.

The report also urged that the Government must undertake an urgent review of the benefit support available to victims, including those who are assisting the police with investigations.

The journey from being a victim to becoming a survivor is unique for each individual and without the right support in place; it is a journey many individuals simply cannot make.

The Survivor Care Pathway in Wales has demonstrated that ongoing victim support can assist with both the rebuilding of lives and the successful investigation of modern slavery offences.

The Committee recommends that all victims of modern slavery be given a personal plan which details their road to recovery and acts as a social passport to support for at least the 12 month period of discretionary leave. This should be available nationwide. Confirmed victims of modern slavery should not be required to leave safe house accommodation until a plan for their ongoing support has been implemented.

The report concludes:  the Government must now be thinking, as imaginatively as possible, about developing a mark two stage of policies to follow up on its world-leading 2015 Modern Slavery Act. This must start with giving meaning to a positive Conclusive Grounds decision and allowing victims a period of Discretionary Leave to start their recovery.

Accompanying that recovery, each victim, once identified, should be awarded a social passport detailing the services to which they are entitled and matching their needs. The purpose of this social passport is to, as far as possible, heal the dreadful wounds that individuals feel from being slaves and to look at options for victims of modern slavery staying in this country or, if they wish, being able to return home safely.

For those remaining in this country, we will aim to support victims to get back into work, to gain housing and education so as to be on a footing with other citizens of this country. We wish the Government to see this as a build-up of policies that will develop the second stage of its world-leadership in the campaign against modern slavery and ensure that victims become as healthy and as prosperous survivors as is humanly possible.

For if we fail to develop a strategy for victims equal to the importance of the Act itself, we need to recall the words of Lady Butler-Sloss to the Committee: “What are you really achieving?”

For the full report:

https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmworpen/803/80302.htm

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