Exactly nine years ago I marked my first Anti-Slavery Day, having been invited to a number of events by its founder Anthony Steen including a reception at 10 Downing Street. A year later I found myself in the role of the Anti-Savery Day coordinator promoting and coordinating events across the country.
That role is no longer required. Today, hundreds of events take place around the country to mark the day – this year the switch, made necessary by the pandemic, means we have the opportunity to attend many more than we could possibly do in person.
Not only has the day gained traction, so too has awareness of the issue among frontline professionals and the general public. The report we published in the summer, It Still Happens Here: Fighting UK Slavery in the 2020s found that as a result of more people being able to spot the signs of slavery, more victims are being identified and referred to the National Referral Mechanism (UK’s Government system for victim identification and support). In 2019, 10,627 victims were supported through the NRM – a 52% increase from the year before.
But the report also found that is just the tip of the iceberg. Based on police data we revealed there are more than 100,000 men, women and children in slavery in the UK today. Therefore, we are only finding at most 1 in 10 victims. What is clear is that the frontline response to human trafficking and modern slavery is still patchy and inconsistent, allowing many victims to fall through the cracks. This is unacceptable and must change.
Our report also shows that the support system often fails those victims who have been rescued, with British victims being affected the most. The system is simply not tailored to their needs and is already overstretched. Barriers to accessing the right support, delays in the decision-making process which put lives of the victims on hold, lack of a longer-term strategy to support victims to their safety and recovery are significant faults of the system that require an urgent fix.
We welcome the fact that the Government has recognised the need and have launched a programme to transform the NRM, however it is now time for radical action and high-level policy reform. We have called the Government to support the Lord McColl’s Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill that is being backed by the former Conservative Party leader, the Rt Hon Sir Iain Duncan Smith, which would give confirmed victims in England and Wales a guaranteed right to support for a minimum of 12 months after a positive NRM decision is made.
From all of our work at Justice and Care, we know that if we are to successfully fight slavery victim care has to be central to the plan. Providing the support they need means, as we have found in our own victim navigator project, that they will engage with police. That provides the evidence and intelligence needed to bring the criminal networks responsible to justice.
As it stands, a general lack of victim care means we are still seeing too few traffickers locked behind bars and justice being served. In fact, the number of prosecutions is going down – despite elevated police activity across the country. Far too many traffickers are walking away with impunity.
Justice and Care’s Victim Navigator Programme sees specialist workers deployed in the heart of police forces in the UK, including border force and serious organised team units. It is designed to help those affected to rebuild their lives and to engage victims with the criminal justice system it has already seen significant impact where 90% of victims with a full support plan in place have chosen to engage with police.
Today, on Anti-Slavery Day 2020, while recognising the progress made in our fight against slavery, it is clear that there is still a lot to be done. Political leadership at the highest level is needed to drive the UK’s response to slavery forward and to set the bar high for other governments across the globe. But there is a job for all of us as well. We are inadvertently driving the demand for exploitation and slavery by soliciting cheaper goods and services, enjoying fast fashion and disposable cheap clothes. We must take a more informed and responsible consumer action to help stop slavery by putting people’s lives first.
– Tatiana Gren-Jardan
Head of Modern Slavery Policy Unit