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Tue, 27 October 2020

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Victims of modern slavery must not be left worse off as we end free movement

Victims of modern slavery must not be left worse off as we end free movement

We are concerned that some victims of modern slavery will be left at greater risk of destitution and re-trafficking as a result of the [Immigration] Bill, writes Iain Duncan Smith MP and Lord McColl. | PA Images

Iain Duncan Smith MP and Lord McColl

4 min read

Lord McColl’s amendment to the Immigration and Bill would provide all confirmed EU national victims of modern slavery 12 months leave to remain in the UK with recourse to public funds.

Modern slavery might not come to mind when considering the Immigration and Social Security Coordination Bill. The Bill’s primary purpose is to end free movement rights allowing the UK to set its own immigration policy. As proponents of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU we firmly support these aims.

However, we are concerned that some victims of modern slavery will be left at greater risk of destitution and re-trafficking as a result of the Bill. Rather than eroding the rights of victims of modern slavery, Brexit affords us the opportunity to ensure that the legal rights of victims remain the same or are enhanced.

Although some victims of slavery in the UK are British, the majority come from abroad.  At present, an EU national who is confirmed as a victim has two possible immigration routes to remain in the UK.  Those who can prove their eligibility under the EU treaties can access benefits which enables them to secure housing and continue their recovery.  Those who cannot prove they are eligible, by contrast, have to apply for DLR to access immigration security, recourse to public funds and the option of being able to do some work as part of their rehabilitation.

After the 30 June 2021 deadline for settled status applications, if a victim does not qualify under the new points-based system, the only remaining option will be to apply for DLR.  

Many victims from non-EU countries can apply for asylum, which is not an option for an EU citizen, and they are considered automatically for DLR, while EU citizens have to apply for it.  Even then, there are few grants of DLR. Government data submitted to the Work and Pensions Select Committee shows that only 12% of victims were granted DLR in 2015.

Receiving support to help victims put their lives back together not only benefits victims by preventing them from falling into destitution and being re-trafficked. It also helps give them the confidence and security to engage with police investigations and give evidence in court, which is vital if we are to see an increase in the conviction rates of traffickers.

Victims of all nationalities, including British citizens, need tailored support and the ability to remain to in the UK to recover from their exploitation

As the recent report, It Still Happens Here, from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and Justice and Care states (JAC) “Failure to support survivors increases re-trafficking rates and hinders our ability to dismantle the criminal networks managing the abuse because their vital evidence and intelligence is lost. It is time to invest for their benefit and ours.” The reduction in immigration options for EU victims will make these challenges even greater.

In this context we are calling on the Government to support Lord McColl’s amendment 27 to the Immigration and Bill to provide all confirmed EU national victims of modern slavery 12 months leave to remain in the UK with recourse to public funds if they meet certain criteria.

In making the case for this important amendment, though, it is important to be clear that it can only be a stop-gap provision to prevent the erosion of the rights of some victims. The truth is victims of all nationalities, including British citizens, need tailored support and the ability to remain to in the UK to recover from their exploitation. That is why we are sponsoring the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill. 

Our Bill - which a Nottingham University Rights Lab report demonstrates would save rather than cost the Government money - would introduce a complete package of support for all confirmed victims in England and Wales and a statutory right to right to remain in the UK for a minimum of 12 months to work and access this support. Our Bill is backed by 27 leading anti-trafficking charities and other organisations.  Recent polling for the CSJ and CAC shows that “the public are overwhelmingly in favour of providing the long term support necessary for victims, with 80 per cent saying they should be given support until they have fully recovered.” 

Regaining sovereignty from the EU and ending free movement provides an opportunity for pioneering a new approach to addressing modern slavery. We would urge the Government to address the immigration options for EU victims of slavery by accepting Lord McColl’s amendment 27 to the Immigration Bill and to renew the UK’s world leading approach to modern slavery by adopting our Victim Support Bill as soon as possible.

 

Sir Iain Duncan Smith is the Conservative MP for Chingford and Woodford Green. Lord McColl of Dulwich is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. 

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