Protecting victims from homelessness, destitution and re-trafficking
Research has found that “the current options for housing and support in the post safe house period are not sufficient for survivors of modern slavery.” (Human Trafficking Foundation 2015)
Charities caring for victims say “The current situation leaves survivors with little realistic opportunity to rebuild their lives, with some ending up destitute, vulnerable to further harm or even being re- exploited.” (Human Trafficking Foundation et al March 2017)
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has said victims from EEA countries in particular are at “high risk of becoming destitute and homeless”.
Giving victims a direct pathway to recovery
Unlike a person who is granted asylum, there is no automatic entitlement to on-going support or residency when a person is confirmed to be a victim of modern slavery.
To access further support and remain in the UK, victims must apply for special discretionary leave to remain, which is only available in a narrow range of circumstances and difficult for victims to secure. In 2015 just 12% of victims were given this special discretionary leave to remain.
Even victims who are EU or British nationals, and may be eligible for benefits, can struggle to access help as there is no specific access or specialised longer term support provided on account of their ordeal as a victim of modern slavery.
Navigating these different options without help from specialist support workers is very difficult for victims. A direct right and pathway to support would smooth their recovery.
Unsupported victims cannot act as witnesses
If victims do not have a guarantee of sustained support they are unlikely to feel safe and secure enough to be give evidence to police investigations. Cases have been reported of victims becoming homeless after leaving the safe house and police being unable to trace them to take their testimony.
The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has warned that “one of the best forms of intelligence and information is from the victims, and if we are continually letting them down, how are we ever going to get the prosecutions and the confidence of victims to come forward?”
Ensuring quality of care
Because there is no duty to provide victims with support set out in law, there are no clear minimum standards for the care and services that are provided.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland where support for the immediate recovery period is guaranteed by law, the legislation sets out the minimum standards for support and assistance. Victims in England and Wales deserve the same assurance of equal access to a minimum level of care.
Making sure victims’ rights are guaranteed after Brexit
The EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims gives victims certain legal rights to support. But at the moment, it is not clear whether these rights will continue to apply after the UK leaves the EU.
The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group of expert charities has said “Given the additional rights to support and assistance the EU Trafficking Directive provides to victims in England and Wales, rights which would be lost if the Directive is repealed post-Brexit, primary legislation must be introduced without delay to transpose the Directive’s support and protection provisions.”
The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill does this.
Giving victims the same rights to support in E&W as in Scotland and NI
In Scotland and Northern Ireland there is already legislation that guarantees victims of human trafficking will be provided with support during the initial reflection and recovery period. In Scotland this is also being extended to 90 days, double the basic provision in England and Wales. Victims in England and Wales should have at a minimum the same guarantee of support that victims in Scotland and Northern Ireland have.
Recommended by experts
The Council of Europe’s official monitoring body for the convention on combating trafficking (GRETA) recommended in 2016 that the British Government should put support for victims into law. It also recommended that the Government should take steps to ensure all victims are provided with support and assistance beyond the initial period of care while authorities decided if a person is a victim.
The US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 includes a recommendation for the British Government to consider extending the period for which victims get support, including providing a specific immigration option for victims of trafficking.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee in the House of Commons recommended in April 2017 that “all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year’s leave to remain with recourse to benefits and services…“this would allow time for victims to receive advice and support, and give them time to plan their next steps. This would not prevent those who wish to return home from doing so.”
Why a minimum of 12 months of ongoing support?
Organisations that support victims have said that a minimum of 12 months of support and permission to be in the UK is the minimum length of time victims need to give them a stable foundation for recovery.
It can take significant time for victims to feel safe enough to begin to process their traumatic experiences through counselling or to engage with police investigations. Often this can only happen once the immediate crisis is over, when they have been formally recognised as a victim and know that they have a significant period of time ahead during which housing, money for essentials and the right to be in the country will be secure.
For victims who have lower mental or physical health needs, they need time to gain skills, experience and confidence that will enable them to live a full and integrated life in society, whether in the UK or in their home country. This might involve language skills, education or training for employment, or rehabilitation through decent work and work experience. A programme run by the Coop supermarket has demonstrated the value of work experience alongside specialist support in helping victims recover from exploitation.
Without a minimum of 12 months leave to remain in the UK, many victims do not have this stability and cannot begin that process of recovery.
But all victims are different with some needing more support than others. Lord McColl’s Bill ensures the help and services provided will be tailored to the needs of each individual victim helping them on a road to independence after 12 months, and if a victim doesn’t want to take up the support or opportunity to stay in the UK, then they are of course free not to.