On 8th December, in the House of Commons, the Government took a welcome step forward in the fight against modern day slavery.
Responding to an amendment from Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, Home Office Minister Rachel Maclean announced that all those who receive a positive conclusive grounds decision and are in need of tailored support will receive appropriate individualised support for a minimum of 12 months.
It may not sound very exciting, but it is a hugely positive move towards giving slavery victims the stability, certainty and confidence they need to recover from their abuse and engage with the police and their criminal investigations.
Modern slavery is the sort of crime that cuts to the very heart of what it means to be human. Vulnerable people are deceived, manipulated and terrified into the worst imaginable exploitation and criminal activity. Our research suggests that as many as 100,000 people in the UK are enslaved, 1-in-3 being British nationals. But for all their horror and misery, there were just 49 convictions under the Modern Slavery Act in 2020, an appalling indictment of the current system.
Recovering from slavery takes time and support, often from a trusted professional who can walk with a survivor through the ups and downs of re-building their life and creating a safe and hopeful future.
Less well understood is the role that support for victims plays in dismantling the organised crime networks behind much of this exploitation. Support for victims is essential to help them overcome their fears and work with the police to bring the slavers and gang masters to justice.
The Centre for Social Justice's (CSJ) report, It Still Happens Here', found all 62 adult survivors receiving support through a Government funded pilot project assisted a criminal investigation. The report was published in partnership with the charity Justice and Care which has found in its own work almost 90% of the victims it is supporting through the Victim Navigator Project are engaging with police investigations - compared to around 1 in 3 nationally.
Our evidence shows that victims are fearful of reprisals from those who have exploited them, worried about their future, and very nervous of the authorities. They need stability and certainty to even consider speaking to the police and providing evidence for prosecution.
The current system fails to provide this support. The limited help there is requires repeated needs assessments, creating distress and instability for victims, and bureaucracy for support workers.
That is why, together with Justice and Care, we recommended that the Government should guarantee support for victims in law during the formal identification process and for a guaranteed 12 months after they are confirmed as a victim. It is an initiative that has gained wide support from MPs leading to the proposed amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill.
There is still much more to be done. We do not have the details of what support will be offered and how victims can access it. Many victims of slavery will not benefit because of their irregular immigration status. If we are serious about giving police the evidence to prosecute the County Lines gangsters, the cuckooers, the traffickers in human misery, the Government needs to extend temporary leave to remain to all confirmed modern slavery victims.
But as the Nationality and Borders Bill moves to the House of Lords, where there will be further opportunity to address these deficiencies, we should welcome the big step forward Government has taken. Giving more victims the confidence and stability to support the police is the only way we will ultimately end the stain of modern slavery on our society.
By Louise Gleich, Senior Researcher, Modern Slavery Policy Unit at the Centre for Social Justice