Jess Phillips MP Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding 20th March 2023 Blog Public Services Share Tweet Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash Across the UK, there are modern slaves. Human beings being exploited, their bodies sold for cash, forced to work for dangerous criminals. They include women, raped and beaten and brutally abused, and children, trafficked to this country and forced to work in drugs farms. This is the reality of modern slavery in the UK. For years, I have worked with women brought here illegally for sexual and criminal exploitation. From them I have heard the most unimaginable horrors. But last week the Prime Minister tweeted that, under his new Illegal Migration Bill, victims like these will be denied access to support from our modern slavery system. A tweet that traffickers will hold up to their victims and tell them that no one is coming to help you. The government will pretend this is about a huge increase in the number of people accessing our modern slavery system from small boat crossings. The reality is that the biggest increase in referrals to the system in the last ten years has been from huge increases in British adults and children trafficked for sex and drugs within Britain, not something any Prime Minister should be proud of. The Illegal Migration Bill is just the latest in a series of unworkable, unethical plans from the Conservatives claiming to stop small boat crossings. The Bill is a con – it won’t work, it will make existing problems like the asylum backlog and hotel use even worse and it will cost the taxpayer millions. But worst of all, it rips up protections for modern slavery victims, some of the most vulnerable victims in the world. The Bill means that, if a victim of modern slavery comes to the UK via any route other than a resettlement scheme, they could be deported or detained by the Home Office. Crucially, unless they are part of an active police investigation, they will be denied any form of support from government. Imagine the message this Bill sends to human traffickers, some of the most dangerous and pervasive criminals in the world, trading in human misery. This Bill doesn’t tell them that they will be pursued or prosecuted. It doesn’t strengthen sentencing for their crimes. It doesn’t adopt Labour’s proposals to set up a new cross-border police unit to dismantle criminal gangs and their networks. Instead, this Bill is a Traffickers Charter. It tells traffickers that, no matter what horrific treatment they subject their victims to, those victims will be left alone, without support. Most sinister of all, I worry that this Bill will actually make trafficking worse. For all abusers, power over victims is the best weapon in the arsenal. Now, traffickers will know that if their victims speak out, they will be faced with detention and deportation, denied access to vital support and protection. Traffickers will use this fact to keep control over victims. It only makes them stronger. Last time the Conservatives changed modern slavery laws, the then Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner warned that withdrawing support from victims would make it harder – not easier – to catch and prosecute traffickers. This new Bill goes further again, denying all but a small handful of victims that vital support. But this time, there is no Commissioner because the government has failed to appoint one. It’s almost like they know this Bill would be torn to shreds under the eyes of independent scrutiny. No one wants to see dangerous small boat crossings. Too many people have lost their lives already, while criminal gangs make millions in profit. Of course Labour wants to stop the boats, but we don’t want to inflict pain and suffering on some of the most vulnerable people in the world to do it. That will never be our approach. The Labour Party stands with the co-operative movement in the fight to end modern slavery. We will oppose this Bill and its cruel measures targeting slavery victims. And we will argue for a common sense approach to ending small boats, one that will work, and one that has fairness and co-operation at its heart.