I am writing as your constituent because I am deeply concerned that on 1 January victims of modern slavery will lose rights that enable them to access support for their recovery in the UK. Please ask the Home Secretary to act urgently to address this and to extend the period of support given to victims by adopting the provisions of Lord McColl and Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill.
Because the Modern Slavery Act does not provide support for victims, the only rights victims have in domestic law are directly effective rights under the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive. But the Government says it cannot say which rights under the Directive are being retained in EU law from 1 January. EU nationals who are confirmed to be victims by the National Referral Mechanism will also lose their right to stay in the UK to continue their recovery and will no longer be able to access welfare benefits from 1 January when the immigration rules change. The only way these victims will be able to stay and access benefits and other support services over a longer period will be if they are granted discretionary leave to remain, but this is only rarely granted. On 19 October the Government agreed to consider EU national victims for this leave automatically – but did not agree to grant it to all victims. There is still a significant chance that many victims will fall through the gaps. Lord McColl’s Bill will give all victims 12 months leave to remain in the UK so that they can continue their recovery after leaving the NRM.
Lord McColl’s Bill isn’t really about immigration status though – it is about enabling victims to access longer term support, something that victims of all nationalities, including British nationals really need. Without access to ongoing support from a support worker, secure accommodation, financial assistance and a stable immigration status, victims are known to be at risk of destitution, homelessness and being re-trafficked. Lord McColl’s Bill provides all of this.
The new Recovery Needs Assessment process the Government has put in place to provide support plans for confirmed victims in England and Wales does not provide the stability that victims need because the maximum period of support granted is only 6 months at a time. The Government argues that this system tailors support to the victim, but the UK’s 2020 Annual Report on Modern Slavery says that the support recommended by the victim’s support worker is only agreed to in full by the Home Office in 53% of case. Why does the Home Office think that it knows better what a victim needs than the support worker who works with them day to day? Lord McColl’s Bill will give the stability of a guaranteed 12 months of support and a tailored support plan.
Long term support for victims is not just good for victims – it is vital to bringing more traffickers to justice. Prosecution rates remain persistently low and research has shown the lack of ongoing, consistent support for victims is a key factor in this. Victims’ essential evidence and intelligence is being lost hindering efforts to dismantle the criminal networks behind modern slavery.
Please write to the Home Secretary asking her to take urgent action to prevent the loss of rights for victims from 1 January and to extend the period of support with leave to remain so that victims of all nationalities can recover from their ordeal and more traffickers are brought to justice.