Cuts to support for slavery victims in UK pose 'a mega risk of homelessness'

The Guardian - 02 Mar 2018

The government is slashing the financial support it provides to victims of slavery in the UK by nearly 50%.

In a statement to the Guardian, the Home Office confirmed that the weekly allowance provided to slavery victims will be cut from £65 to £37.75. Support for victims lasts for 45 days following confirmation that they were subjected to modern slavery in Britain.

The Home Office said the move was designed to align the allowance given to victims of slavery with the support extended to asylum seekers.

Anti-slavery campaigners said the cuts could leave victims of slavery unable to cover their basic needs as they tried to recover from traumatic and violent ordeals at the hands of slave masters. They warned that the withdrawal of support could tip many people into homelessness and destitution, or leave them back under the control of traffickers.

“Any cut in the subsistence rates for potentially trafficked and trafficked people stands to undermine their recovery,” said Kate Roberts from the Human Trafficking Foundation.

“Keeping trafficked people in poverty will also undermine their ability and capacity to cooperate with the authorities to bring their exploiters to justice and legal systems to access their rights.

“If the UK is serious about supporting survivors of slavery to rebuild their lives, we need to ensure they have the economic means to meet their basic needs during the short recovery period they are entitled to … without this there is a real risk that, at the end of the period, they will still not be in a situation to move on and will instead slip back into exploitation.”

One charity, Hope for Justice, which provides pro bono legal support for victims of slavery, said that in 2015, 70% of their clients faced homelessness.

Labour MP Frank Field said the cuts jarred with Theresa May’s oft-repeated commitment to eradicating slavery in Britain and protecting vulnerable victims.

“The prime minister has dedicated a huge amount of personal and political commitment to eradicating modern slavery. Yet the Home Office has tried to slip through this ‘reform’ – a 40% cut in weekly income for survivors of modern slavery – without any scrutiny or transparency,” said Field.

“This huge reduction in monetary support exposes survivors to a mega risk of homelessness. It is inexplicable that the prime minister, who has built up and positioned herself on the side of slaves, should now throw those victims back into the clutches of the slave drivers. [It’s a] good day for slave owners, [but a] bad day for victims of modern slavery.”

The Home Office has argued that, despite cuts to weekly support, there will be no reduction in the total amount of money used to support modern slavery victims.

The Home Office said support for “the most vulnerable”, including dependent children of adult victims, would increase, adding that it had also recently increased the length of time for which confirmed victims receive financial support from 14 to 45 days.

“Asylum seekers and victims of modern slavery often have similar essential living needs and so we are aligning the methodology used to calculate subsistence support we give to both, to ensure an approach that is consistent and fair,” said a Home Office statement.

There are an estimated 13,000 people trapped in slavery in Britain, although the UK’s anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has warned the real number is likely to be far higher.

Though the government passed landmark anti-slavery legislation in 2016 and committed millions of pounds to fighting modern slavery and trafficking, there has been mounting criticism of the failure to offer adequate protection and support to victims.

In December, a National Audit Office report described the government’s anti-slavery response as an “incomplete picture” and said prosecutions of traffickers remained low.

Last year, a highly critical report by the House of Commons work and pensions committee said there was an “inexcusable” lack of support for the estimated 13,000 victims in Britain. The report said many survivors became destitute after their financial support ended.

Annie Kelly, The Guardian