Today the UK marks Anti-Slavery Day, a day to reflect and raise awareness of the odious trade of humans which persists in many countries around the world, including our own.
The extent of modern slavery in the United Kingdom is extraordinary. The Global Slavery Index estimates that there are a staggering 136,000 victims in the UK.
Of those 136,000 victims, last year 6,993 were referred into the UK’s mechanism for victim support, the National Referral Mechanism.
The 2015 Modern Slavery Act led the charge against slavery and legislated amongst other things on penalties for traffickers, establishment of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commission, and creation of child trafficking guardians.
Whilst we should be proud that the UK is a world leader in the global fight against slavery, there is still much to be done in this fight against injustice.
There is a gap in UK law on providing comprehensive support for victims once they have been rescued.
The current limit of 45 days of support was challenged in a judicial review by two victims. The Government conceded its 45-day policy of support for confirmed human trafficking victims is incompatible with the Trafficking Convention. In response the Home Office has said it will develop a ‘sustainable needs-based system for supporting victims of trafficking’.
Victims need longer term support, without it we are robbing victims on their road to recovery and leaving them at danger of poverty, homelessness and re-trafficking. Effective longer-term support is also central to increasing the number of effective criminal prosecutions.
Before Parliament was prorogued Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill passed quickly the Lords and awaited second reading in the Commons.
The Bill has been put forward again in this new session of Parliament, with it’s first reading in the Lord on Wednesday 30th October. There have been several changes to the Bill to ensure that victims receive the support they need.
Firstly, confirmed victims will receive a minimum of 12 months support and leave to remain and the Government must consider whether the victim needs further support past the 12 month period. The right to have a minimum 12 months leave to remain has also been extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Secondly, the Government must produce a report on the number of victims which are found either through Duty to Notify or the NRM, including their immigration status and nationality.
Finally, the Bill requires local authorities to place child victims of slavery into accommodation which minimises the risk of the child being re-trafficked.
If the Government wants to curb crimes of slavery in the UK, they should adopt the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill to give victims more support and secure their recovery and safety from re-trafficking.