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Work and Pensions Committee says more must be done to safeguard immigration status of modern slavery victims

Date of Publication: 
2 May 2017

Parliamentary committee says victims can face destitution due to "inexcusable" lack of support

Work and Pensions Committee says more must be done to safeguard immigration status of modern slavery victims

02 May 2017

In a report published on Sunday, Parliament's Work and Pensions Committee has said that there is an "inexcusable" lack of support for victims of modern slavery in the UK.

You can read the Committee's full report on modern slavery here.

While the report notes that modern slavery is a hidden crime and therefore its scale is difficult to assess, the Government has estimated that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims in the UK in 2013, with Romania, Poland, Albania, Nigeria and the UK itself the five most common countries of origin.

The Committee found that the current mechanism for identifying and supporting victims out of slavery means that the victims, once identified, have no automatic formal immigration status or rights and are often faced with a total lack of understanding or even recognition of their situation.

The Committee warns that victims can face destitution, and recommends that all confirmed victims should be given at least one year's leave to remain.

See chapter two of the report here for more on the subject of the immigration status of victims.

The report states: "Treating confirmed victims of modern slavery differently depending on their nationality has created a confusing landscape that is poorly understood by professionals or victims themselves. As a result some victims face destitution or even a return to their enslavers because they have no ongoing access to support. The Home Office Minister claimed that allowing victims a year's leave to remain with some entitlements would create a 'pull factor'. This claim makes little sense and is unsubstantiated by evidence. We recommend that all confirmed victims of modern slavery be given at least one year's leave to remain with the same recourse to benefits and services as asylum seekers are granted. 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. We set out details on what specific support should go with an automatic grant of 12 months discretionary leave to remain in chapter 2 of this report."

The Committee also recommends that confirmed victims of modern slavery be exempted from the conditions of the Habitual Residence Test, saying "[i]t is absurd to expect victims of modern slavery to be able to prove they have been living and working in the UK if they have been enslaved."

Frank Field MP, the Chair of the Committee, was quoted as saying: "While we applaud the leading role the UK has taken in tackling this "barbaric crime", as the Prime Minister has called it, when you consider what is at stake, there is a shocking lack of awareness and co-ordination in the front line services dealing with modern slavery. What these people go through is unimaginable, and yet it is happening, here, now, and our response seems almost lackadaisical: a paper exercise earning you recognition as having been enslaved, which then entitles you to almost nothing as far as we can see. We don't even record instances where the same person is thrown back into this hell, even though that is surely the clearest sign of the failures in our response.

"No society worth its salt can allow this to continue, or fail to support those who fall victim. The Prime Minister now needs to open up a further front in her Modern Slavery Act. The incoming Government must conduct an urgent review of our national response and put in place some basic minimum safeguards, status, that will allow a person to begin to rebuild a life, testify against their abuser if they feel able, and above all, be protected from the unimaginable but real possibility of falling victim again."