If you lost everything – how long would it take to get your life on track?
Would 45 days be enough?
45 days of recovery and support while the Home Office assesses their case is all that victims of modern-day slavery are currently entitled to under the law . Slavery is one of the greatest human rights issues of our time and its victims suffer some of the most horrific experiences anyone can experience. The UK spends millions to find victims and provide shelter and safety to victims, and the Modern Slavery Act, introduced by Theresa May in 2015, is considered world-leading.
The UK cares about modern slavery victims—but up to a point.
Vulnerable people can face eviction from their safe house the moment the Home Office determines their status as victims. They are then forced to make their own way until agencies put in place a decent pathway to secure housing and support longer-term. Others slip through the net, potentially facing abuse all over again.
Victims are often a key sources of intelligence within the justice system. The government’s failure to properly protect them, means missed opportunities to put perpetrators behind bars and protect vulnerable people from being exploited in the future.
We need to get better at getting immediate support to victims when they are at their most vulnerable. It can’t ever be right that we support a potential victim until the decision about formal recognition is made, then abruptly cut off all support. It takes victims longer than 45 days to start putting their lives back together, and I’m glad that parliamentary moves are afoot to create a decent pathway for recovery for victims.
Last Friday, the House of Lords debated the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, which, if passed, aims to set things right. The Bill proposes 45 days of support and a safe house, plus 12 months of leave once their status is confirmed.
If passed, the legislation would bring treatment of Modern Slavery victims in England and Wales into line with those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. There, victims benefit from a legal right to immediate support while the Home Office makes a decision about their status, with longer-term care provided for an additional 12 months. This should be extended to the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister should prioritise fixing the shortcomings in the Modern Slavery Act that she introduced two years ago. While May as Home Secretary pioneered the creation of new protections for recognised victims, the support system she built does not properly care for the vulnerable people at its heart.
I hear directly from the front-line staff working within this system who do the best they can while urging national politicians to design a system that supports and protects victims. Somehow the support system which emerged from the Home Office was just uncaring and unfeeling.
Modern-day slavery is one of the great human rights issues of our time, and it is right that Labour & Co-operative peers are championing change in Parliament. It’s right that the Co-operative Group lead the way in publishing an annual statement detailing the steps they have taken to banish slavery in their business and supply chains—a clause in the Modern Slavery Act which the Co-op campaigned to have included.
And it’s also right that the Co-op is supporting victims of modern slavery to rebuild their lives by providing opportunities for paid, freely-chosen employment through its Bright Futures programme, delivered in partnership with the charity City Hearts.
As co-operators we are working hard to put a stop to these crimes. But, we must do even more to ensure victims are at the heart of every Government effort to stamp out slavery.
Tom Hayes is an Oxford City Council cabinet member with responsibility for modern slavery and human trafficking