Modern Slavery Act 2015

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:42 pm on 26th October 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:42 pm, 26th October 2017

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mrs Grant and Vernon Coaker for securing this really important debate, and I am delighted that Anthony Steen is present.

As the Prime Minister has said, slavery is the gravest human rights abuse of our time, and we all share a moral duty to stamp it out. That duty really should transcend party politics. We have come a long way in the two years since the Prime Minister introduced the Modern Slavery Act, but the Government absolutely recognise that we are on a journey, and there is much more that we want to do.

I have very little time to respond to the debate, so I shall concentrate on reforms to the national referral mechanism, because I wish to make some important announcements. I will, though, get back to colleagues who have raised very important points, and I will continue to work with the all-party group. I look forward to further meetings to discuss further reforms in more detail.

Following the meeting of the modern slavery taskforce last week, several improvements to the NRM were announced. To improve the decision-making process, a new single, expert unit will be created in the Home Office to make decisions about whether someone is a victim of modern slavery. An independent panel of experts will be created to review all negative decisions, adding significantly to the scrutiny that such cases currently receive. A new digital system will be developed to support the NRM process, to make it easier for those on the front line to refer victims for support and to enable data to be captured and analysed to better aid prevention and law enforcement.

There are things we want to do to improve support for adults before, during and after the NRM process. It is paramount that victims’ rights and entitlements are robustly protected, which is why the Government will invoke section 50 of the Modern Slavery Act and set out in regulations the support to which victims are entitled. We will also launch a consultation on the preparation of statutory guidance under section 48 of the Act on the identification of and support for victims of slavery. Such a regulatory framework will ensure that victims know what they are entitled to, and that those who work with victims are clear on their roles and responsibilities.

It is vital that victims have access to support immediately upon their rescue from situations of exploitation. The Government are introducing places of safety for adult victims for the first three days after they are identified by public authorities, before they make a decision about whether they want to enter the NRM. During that period, potential victims will receive advice and support to ensure that they understand their options and what entering the NRM will mean for them. If a potential victim opts to enter the NRM, we must ensure that the care they receive is consistent and meets minimum standards, regardless of where in the country they are being cared for. That is why the Government will adopt the Human Trafficking Foundation’s trafficking survivor care standards as a minimum standard for victim support.

Moving on from the NRM can be a challenging and difficult time for some victims as they leave the security and sanctuary of a safe house and reintegrate into society in the UK or return home. In many cases, the existing 14-day move-on support period does not give enough time for support to be provided properly, so we will extend the period to 45 days, thereby guaranteeing that confirmed victims will receive a minimum of 90 days of Government-funded support. Further, we will extend by a week the period of support for those who are not confirmed as victims, making it nine days. For all confirmed victims who have left the NRM, we will run weekly drop-in centres in partnership with the Salvation Army, so that victims can continue to receive ongoing support and advice.

As part of the refocus I have described, and to enrich the support we give to victims, we wish to make sure that we consider the victims who are in the asylum system. As Members will know, and as was said in the debate, a vast number of victims of slavery are identified by UK Visas and Immigration staff when they are looking through applications and spot people who might also be victims of slavery. It is important that we ensure consistency among people receiving comparable Government support, with respect to their day-to-day living expenses, while also ensuring that the victims of modern slavery receive specialist services, regardless of where they are accommodated, to enable them to begin to recover and rebuild their lives. For those victims of modern slavery who are in asylum accommodation, specialist services are provided through identified outreach support workers, who ensure that victims receive the same expert counselling, medical care, legal aid and other assistance as they would if they were in NRM safe houses.

As we move towards the implementation of the specific improvements to the specialist support arrangements available to all victims of modern slavery that I have announced today, we also plan to align the arrangements for covering basic living costs with those in place for asylum seekers, while continuing to ensure that the specific additional needs of certain people are catered for. We want to build on our work to identify victims of modern slavery properly, so we will also consult on strengthening the first responder role, by among other things looking at the criteria for becoming a responder and making sure they are properly trained.

Lastly, on our final objective, we want to improve the support for child victims. We will continue to roll out the independent child trafficking advocates nationally and to test new and innovative ways of supporting trafficked children, including specialist accommodation. The £2.2 million we granted as part of the child trafficking protection fund will test what specialist support for children works. We will also consider how to make the NRM decision-making process as child friendly as possible, including by looking at how we communicate NRM decisions to children.

We believe that this package of reform will significantly improve the current NRM and put victims’ needs at the centre of the process. We are grateful for the work of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, organisations across the third sector and indeed Members of this House. As we deliver the changes I have announced today, I will work with those organisations and Members to ensure that victims experience these improvements as soon as possible. I want no one in the House to be in any doubt that the Government are totally dedicated to preventing this appalling global trade in human misery and to ensuring that victims of modern slavery receive the support they need and that offenders are brought to justice.

We have today heard examples of the great work being done around the country to raise awareness of modern slavery and sent out powerful messages that, despite all our differences on many other issues, the House of Commons is united and committed to ending modern slavery. We in this House and those beyond the Chamber all have a role to play. It is clear to me that only by working together can we stamp out this most horrendous crime against our shared humanity.