When a person escapes from modern slavery they need help. Somewhere safe to stay, medical treatment, mental health support, legal advice, training, education and most importantly someone to walk alongside them as they figure out their next steps in rebuilding their life. Most of all they need security and stability as they look to the future.
Unlike victims of modern slavery in Northern Ireland and Scotland, victims in England and Wales currently have no legal right to support.
The Government provides these victims with a limited period of care on a non-statutory basis while the authorities decide if the person is a victim, but then the support ends. Although some victims are entitled to further help, the vast majority (and this is true of victims across the UK) are left to fend for themselves, often at risk of homelessness and vulnerable to being re-trafficked.
The Government has said it wants to lead the world in efforts to address modern slavery. This work needs to start with putting victims first and guaranteeing their rights to support.
Lord McColl of Dulwich has brought forward a Bill in the House of Lords to put this right. His Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill will give victims in England and Wales a guaranteed right to support during the initial period when the decision about the status is being made, and for a further minimum of 12 months afterwards.
It is very important that the Government hears from as many people as possible asking them to support the Bill.
What about Scotland and Northern Ireland?
The Bill includes provision to extend leave to remain to all confirmed victims in Scotland and Northern so that victims can have the security they need. Apart from this clause, victim support in Scotland and Northern Ireland are not covered by Lord McColl’s Bill. In part this is because these countries already have provisions in law to offer victims short term support. In Scotland this has even been extended to a period of 90 days rather than 45 days.
We hope that as Lord McColl’s Bill makes progress through parliament the governing authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland will choose to have the Bill apply in those countries too. The authorities in Scotland and Northern could elect for that part of Lord McColl’s Bill to apply to Scotland and Northern Ireland, so that victims in all parts of the UK benefit.