Hope for Justice has offered its strong backing to a new campaign urging better support for victims of modern slavery. The #FreeForGood campaign, launched by a coalition of leading UK anti-slavery charities, wants to ensure that the cross-party Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill becomes law.
Hope for Justice’s Director of Legal Policy, Phillipa Roberts, said: “In our experience of providing advocacy to victims, unless long-term safety and stability (including housing and support) can be achieved, victims cannot make informed choices about whether to cooperate with a criminal investigation or pursue civil compensation, both of which are essential to perpetrator accountability.
“Additionally, victims often require far longer than 45 days to feel safe and make such decisions. Nor can victims easily cooperate with these processes if rendered destitute and homeless…In contrast, well-supported victims are able to give their best evidence at court, enhancing conviction rates. Such issues could be alleviated by ongoing and clear support provision for victims encapsulated in this Bill.”
More information is below, in the news release from the #FreeForGood campaign:
Government must act or be forced to act on measures to help slavery victims, says new campaign
Free For Good, which was launched in Parliament this week, called on the government to recognise and correct the “shortcomings” in the current legislation, which sees those people identified as victims of slavery guaranteed just 14 days of support.
Free For Good wants the government to back The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which is being sponsored by Chairman of the Work & Pensions Select Committee, Labour’s Frank Field and the former Conservative shadow health minister Lord McColl. This would provide up to 12 months of support to those who have been exploited. Currently the Bill is stuck in the House of Lords, despite unanimously passing its Second Reading in early September.
Speaking at the event, Mr Field said that the government “must act now, or be forced to act”, while Lord McColl said the government had a “moral duty” to increase support for the victims of slavery.
The intervention by Lord McColl and Mr Field came as it was revealed that 230 MPs had already been lobbied by their constituents and the Co-op pledged to encourage their 4.6 million members to back the campaign.
The Campaign says that extending support would allow the police, social services and charities to offer essential help and assistance to the victims of slavery, many of whom do not speak English, suffer from mental health problems and have ongoing legal cases.
Campaigners warn that without the support offered by the Bill it will continue to be difficult for vulnerable victims to give evidence in court with the result that conviction rates for traffickers will remain very low. At present some figures suggest that just 1% of victims of modern slavery ever see their exploiters brought to justice.
Since the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill the government has announced plans to offer 45 days of support to victims to help their recovery once it is confirmed by the National Referral Mechanism that they have been trafficked.
Lara Bundock, from the Snowdrop project, which is backing the campaign, welcomed the move, but said it was inadequate, adding that it can take up to six week to secure an appointment with specialised legal counsel. While Kate Roberts, from the Human Trafficking Foundation, stressed the importance of providing counselling and safe accommodation to victims for much longer than 45 days after they are confirmed as victims so that they can start to rebuild their lives.
A campaign spokesperson said: “Many victims do not begin to process the trauma they have experienced until much later than 45 days after the decision about their victim status is made. To feel able to begin this psychological recovery many victims need to have certainty that they will have somewhere to stay and food to eat for a sustained period of time.
“Moreover, the additional 45 days will not remove the risk of destitution and re-trafficking. At present those victims who do not have the right to stay in the UK beyond the 45 days will need to seek ‘special discretionary leave to remain’. However, many applications are not processed within this time. So when the 45 days is over, destitution and re-trafficking will be a significant risk, while victims wait for a decision about their future without support.
“The Prime Minister has rightly said she wants to lead the world in efforts to tackle slavery. The Modern Slavery Act was a major step forward, but it does not secure a pathway for recovery. The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill will offer that pathway by putting in place the Work & Pensions Select Committee’s recommendation of 12 months support and residence for victims.”
The Campaign used the launch to highlight the latest UK slavery statistics published by the National Crime Agency (NCA), which identified 1,322 potential victims. The figures covering July to September 2017 showed an increase of around 10% from the previous three months.
It is urging its supporters to contact their local MPs, highlighting the problem and encouraging them to put pressure on the government to move Lord McColl’s Bill forward, because it has been stuck in the House of Lords since September, despite being passed unanimously at Second Reading.
The Free For Good website has a range of tools for the public to find out more about the Bill, how those concerned can get involved and how they can support this groundbreaking campaign. It helps visitors contact their MP about the Bill and highlights the positive impact it would have on current victims of modern slavery.
The spokesperson for the Campaign concluded: “According to the Home Office this problem affects around 13,000 people across the UK, with many victims being terribly traumatised after years of ill-treatment. So there are many compelling arguments why extending support is desperately needed.
“The Council of Europe’s official monitoring body for the convention on combating trafficking (GRETA), the US State Department and the Work and Pensions Select Committee have all confirmed the importance of providing longer term assistance.
“This Bill and it measures is also backed by many of the UK’s leading anti-trafficking charities, who see first-hand why it is needed. We hope the government recognises this and moves forward with what Lord McColl has described as his ‘very reasonable ask’, a view we fully share.”
For more information go to: www.freeforgood.org.uk – The UK’s campaign for supporting victims of slavery to live free for good.