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Wed, 21 October 2020

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The Government must protect victims of modern slavery after Brexit

The Government must protect victims of modern slavery after Brexit

Credit: CARE/Unsplash

Nola Leach, Chief Executive | CARE

3 min read Partner content

Whatever your views about Brexit, we should take this opportunity to create even better legislation than we had before. The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill provides the means to do just that.

Long term care for victims of modern slavery may seem to some like a bit of a luxury – would it not be better for government to focus resources on safeguarding victims found in exploitation and prosecuting their traffickers? Whilst this logic might seem attractive, it is deeply flawed.

Providing statutory victim care – currently absent in England and Wales domestic legislation – focused on victims’ long-term recovery cannot be an optional extra. It is central to a credible approach to dealing with modern slavery.

If people confirmed as victims by the official process (the ‘NRM’) are not given specialised support to help them recover fully they will remain vulnerable to re-trafficking in which case the money invested in their rescue will be lost.

Similarly, if victims don’t know whether their needs will be met when they leave the NRM they have neither the emotional space or confidence in the authorities to consider engaging with prosecutions, and trafficking conviction rates will remain low.

Experts working in victim care argue that in order to guard against re-trafficking and empower victims to give evidence in court, most require a minimum of 12 months support after being formally recognised as a victim.

It is for this reason that the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill of Conservative Peer, Lord McColl, and former Conservative Party Leader, Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP, is so important.

By mandating victim support and leave to remain for at least 12 months from the point someone is confirmed as a victim of modern slavery, the Bill directly addresses victims’ needs. 

The Government should seize hold of the new Modern Slavery Bill and demonstrate a country that is confidently and compassionately moving forward to assume its new place in the world.

Supported by the Free for Good campaign from 27 leading anti-slavery charities and other organisations, the Bill has been the subject of a special report by the University of Nottingham Rights Lab demonstrating that it will save rather than cost the Government money.

Moreover, the imperative for a change in approach is compounded by the fact that with the end of free movement for EEA nationals, newly arrived victims of modern slavery from these countries will lose statutory recourse to public funds.

There is also uncertainty about what rights under the Anti-Trafficking Directive will be part of retained EU law.

Whatever your views about Brexit, it should not be allowed to become a race to the bottom.

We should instead take this opportunity to create even better legislation than we had before.

The Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill provides the means to do just that.

Rather than becoming the occasion for the effective erosion of the rights of some of the most vulnerable, the Government should seize hold of the new Modern Slavery Bill and demonstrate a country that is confidently and compassionately moving forward to assume its new place in the world.

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