Home Office drops modern slavery support measures over 'viability and funding'

Charities accuse government being “no longer committed to protecting victims of modern slavery”
Photo: godrick/Alamy Stock Photo

The Home Office has backtracked on two of its promises to survivors of modern slavery, prompting accusations from charities working to support those at risk that government is “no longer committed to protecting victims of modern slavery”.

On 1 November, a newsletter from the Home Office on latest efforts to tackle modern slavery, seen by CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, was sent out to stakeholders and partners. At the end of the newsletter, it was announced that the commitment to the Places of Safety support model would not be moving forward after a review of its “viability and funding”. 

The model was promised in 2017 because potential victims of modern slavery had no guaranteed access to advice or accommodation in the days after reporting severe exploitation. The scheme intended to improve referral rates by making survivors feel safer, and allowing them assistance to decide whether they wanted to enter the government’s national referral mechanism system to receive specialist care and support.

“We are concerned that by viewing the national referral mechanism as a way to game the asylum system, the government is failing to deliver the robust, tailored programmes required to give vulnerable people, including thousands of children and UK nationals, the support they need,” Labour MP and chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Diana Johnson told PoliticsHome

“It is extremely disappointing to learn that the government is instead rolling back programmes of support.

“This won’t stop channel crossings and it won’t combat people smuggling gangs. The only people this will harm are victims and survivors of terrible exploitation and it is simply not good enough.”

With the introduction of the Illegal Migration Act earlier this year, survivors of trafficking arriving irregularly to the UK are now prevented from accessing support. 

“Since 2017, the NRM has only become more complicated and recent legislation has made it harder to get accepted into the NRM and access support as additional evidence at the initial stage is now required,” Robyn Phillips, director of operations at Human Trafficking Foundation, said.

The new Nationality and Borders Act also now subjects victims to higher evidence thresholds much earlier in their recovery period, requires criminal background checks, and restricts support for survivors of trafficking in cases where victims don’t disclose abuse quickly enough.

Without pre-NRM referral support, modern slavery charities are concerned that potential victims will continue to fall through the cracks as survivors are expected to make a decision on whether to access formal support or pursue a police investigation without guaranteed advice. In cases where survivors are non-UK nationals, they are forced to navigate a complex process without advice on whether they face possible detention for having an irregular immigration status. 

“In the past three months on record, as many as 1,317 potential victims were identified by authorities but slipped through the net without a referral for help,” Maya Esslemont, director of After Exploitation, said. They believed this is in part due to the lack of support on offer in the days after leaving exploitation. 

The Home Office’s November newsletter to stakeholders also noted it would also “not be moving forward” with a commitment made in December 2021 to provide 12 months’ minimum support to confirmed victims. 

“The government made this decision on the basis that the Recovery Needs Assessment (RNA) already ensures that necessary assistance to victims is in place,” Jamie Fookes at Anti-Slavery International, said. “However, the Anti-Trafficking Migration Group’s independent review of the RNA found that it does not meet the needs of survivors.”

The Home Office defended their decision to abandon the programmes. “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime, and we are committed to ensuring that the necessary support is available to victims of modern slavery to help them rebuild their lives,” a spokesperson said.

We remain focused on delivering the existing £379m Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract service as smoothly as possible, and to working with first responders to ensure victims understand the support and protection that is available to them,” a spokesperson said. 

In its report into human trafficking, the home affairs committee found that NRM was “not fit for purpose”, and called for piloted programmes that would improve the response to human trafficking to be rolled out much more quickly and available nationwide. 

This article first appeared on CSW's sister title PoliticsHome

Share this page