New figures show the UK government is failing modern slavery victims, say campaigners

Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel
Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel

  • The UK government is turning a blind eye to modern slavery, say campaigners.
  • New figures reveal the Home Office’s reluctance to accept reports of human trafficking.
  • Anti-modern slavery organisations condemn the Home Office’s “failure to support exploited people”.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Campaigners against modern slavery have condemned the British government for turning a blind eye to the practice after new statistics revealed its reluctance to accept genuine reports of human trafficking.

After Exploitation, an organisation which tracks modern slavery in the UK, obtained figures from the Home Office revealing that a large majority, some 81%, of modern slavery reports that were initially rejected by officials and challenged were subsequently overturned.

The challenges to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) were successful in a large majority of cases, with the Home Office later accepting that there were in fact reasonable grounds to believe somebody may have been a human slavery victim.

The Home Office’s reluctance to accept claims of human trafficking leaves victims vulnerable, say campaigners.

Under the current system, when reasonable grounds are found at an early stage of the process then potential victims can receive assistance and support, including temporary protection from deportation.

They then face a second stage, where the Home Office determines if there are conclusive grounds the potential victim is a confirmed survivor of trafficking.

The Home Office’s statistics, obtained following a Freedom of Information request, show 103 challenged rejections were later overturned in 2020 – 75% of all reconsiderations at this stage.

Commenting on the figures, the Shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas Symonds, said: “These are shameful statistics. The Conservative Government promised to do more to help victims of human trafficking – some of the most vulnerable people on earth – yet this data shows their broken system is completely failing.

“It’s yet another example of Priti Patel promising to do something – and not following through. In fact, upcoming legislation is set to make the situation even worse for victims of human trafficking, which can include awful examples of sexual exploitation.”

The campaigners have stated their deep concern at the Government’s ‘New Plan for Immigration’, “despite the grave danger it poses to survivors of modern slavery.”

In a joint statement, After Exploitation, Anti Slavery International, Focus on Labour Exploitation, Freedom United, Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA), Women for Refugee Women, and Helen Bamber Foundation said:

“We are deeply concerned that the Government intends to push forward with the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ next week, despite the grave danger it poses to survivors of modern slavery.

“The Government has claimed that increases in trafficking referrals illustrate an ‘abuse’ of the system. On the contrary, a culture of disbelief within the current system routinely denies vulnerable people the entitlements they need to rebuild their lives after exploitation.

“We are concerned that measures in the ‘New Plan for Immigration’, such as moves to create an even stricter first, Reasonable Grounds, stage in trafficking claims, are being enacted to bring down overall numbers of victims recognised by the UK State. This approach, focussing on cutting corners rather than fairness, will harm some of the most vulnerable people in society.

“We are also concerned that the ‘New Plan for Immigration’ will cause even more survivors to slip through the net before their case has even been heard. Last year, 2,178 suspected victims came into contact with authorities but were not referred for help. It is vital that authorities are given the tools to build trust with survivors, through funding for the Places of Safety scheme – first promised in 2017 – which would allow victims time to access advocacy at the point of referral.

“Instead, under the ‘New Plan for Immigration’, new powers will be granted to First Responders, including Immigration and Law Enforcement, to reject trafficking claims ‘outright’ even where victims would like their case to be heard.

“It is vital that Government commits to identifying and protecting more survivors, not fewer, in light of well-documented Home Office failure to support exploited people.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The use of these figures are completely misleading and wrong. Only 2% of reasonable grounds were reconsidered in 2020.

“The UK has led the world in protecting victims of modern slavery and we continue to identify and support those who have suffered intolerable abuse at the hands of criminals and traffickers.

“Our New Plan for Immigration will fix the broken asylum system, ensuring those who genuinely need protection get the support they need. We will welcome people through safe and legal routes whilst preventing abuse of the system, cracking down on illegal entry and the criminality associated with it.”

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