Blow for Theresa May as MPs tear into Government over modern slavery
A powerful committee of MPs today dealt a major blow to Theresa May as it tore into the Government over its attempts to tackle modern slavery.
The Prime Minister has made ending the scourge a personal mission and steered the Modern Slavery Act through parliament during her time as Home Secretary.
But the Public Accounts Committee said ministers had no idea how much cash was being ploughed into systems to prevent it or even where they should target resources.
In a new report, the committee said potential victims were waiting too long for a decision over whether their case will be taken up - with an average wait of 134 days in 2016.
It also deplored the lack of minimum care standards for potential victims and said ministers had no clue whether those who had been through the system were being trafficked again.
“Victims of modern slavery can face unimaginable horrors but the Government’s good intentions have yet to result in coherent action to help them,” committee chair and Labour MP Meg Hillier fumed.
“Government cannot hope to target resources in an effective manner until it properly understands the scale and nature of the challenge. This crime is complex and a piecemeal approach will not cut it.”
She added: “Government must get a grip on what works and what doesn’t; when things change, it must be sufficiently informed and agile to respond.”
The report said: “The system does not enable the department to analyse the data it contains to better understand modern slavery as a crime…
“For example, it is not able to undertake analysis to understand the businesses and sectors where prevalence of modern slavery is highest in order to identify where to focus its attention and develop prevention strategies.”
'GOVERNMENT MUST PROVIDE TOOLS'
It is thought there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in Britain and more than 45 million around the globe.
Tory MP and PAC member Anne Marie Morris wrote to new Home Secretary Sajid Javid to say the Modern Slavery Act "is not working in practice".
In an open letter published on PoliticsHome, she said companies should be legally bound to report on their work to train staff and rehabilitate slaves found in their supply chain.
And she said trading licenses for smaller firms should be dependent on evidence of their efforts to crack down on the issue.
"This is not just about money and it’s not just about process, while of course they play a part," Newton Abbott MP Ms Morris wrote.
"This is about every single one of us understanding, believing in, and being prepared to play our part in stamping out slavery. And it is for the government to give us the tools to do this."
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime that destroys the lives of its victims, which is why we introduced the world-leading Modern Slavery Act in 2015 and have put in place the Modern Slavery Strategy.
“The Public Accounts Committee recognises that the UK is ahead of many countries in responding to modern slavery and the Government’s Modern Slavery Taskforce will consider its recommendations carefully.
“We have recently announced reforms to the National Referral Mechanism to make sure it supports more victims at a quicker pace and we are taking action to eradicate modern slavery from the economy, including requiring large businesses to report on how they are tackling and preventing this crime in their supply chains.”
Mrs May set up the first ever ministerial task force on modern slavery when she became prime minister, in a bid to stay at the front of the the fight against it.
"From nail bars and car washes to sheds and rundown caravans, people are enduring experiences that are simply horrifying in their inhumanity," she said at the time.
"Vulnerable people who have travelled long distances believing they were heading for legitimate jobs are finding they have been duped, forced into hard labour, and then locked up and abused.
"Innocent individuals are being tricked into prostitution, often by people they thought they could trust. Children are being made to pick-pocket on the streets and steal from cash machines."
She added: "These crimes must be stopped and the victims of modern slavery must go free.
"This is the great human rights issue of our time, and as Prime Minister I am determined that we will make it a national and international mission to rid our world of this barbaric evil."