Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:48 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat 2:48 pm, 8th September 2017

My Lords, I am proud to lend my support to this Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who has a long history of working to ensure that those affected by human trafficking are suitably protected. I salute him for all his efforts. The Government, too, must be congratulated on introducing the much needed Modern Slavery Act, which has raised the awareness of this evil practice and ensures that more perpetrators are apprehended and punished.

The Prime Minister quite rightly called modern slavery,

“the great human rights issue of our time”.

With this declaration in mind, we must seek to go further, if we truly want to rid the UK—and indeed the world—of slavery in its modern forms. We must examine the contexts and situations that make people vulnerable to exploitation, be they girls in the British care system, women from Nigeria or men from Romania. We as a modern society need to truly understand what modern slavery entails, as was so eloquently set out by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby. So alongside our new, more robust criminal legislation, it is vital that we evaluate how we treat the victims of this most awful, degrading, wicked and cruel crime, which involves mental, physical, emotional and sexual abuse and which abuses human dignity, destroys confidence and self-esteem and ruins lives.

Unsurprisingly, many of the vulnerable victims of this hideous crime are children. More than a third of the 3,805 victims of modern slavery in the UK identified by the National Crime Agency in the UK last year were children. So we must raise our game in this area and reach out to help those young people whose lives have been blighted by the misery, abuse and exploitation of modern-day slavery. They need intensive levels of dedicated and specialist support to help to rebuild their lives so that they become young, active and healthy adults. Presently, for child victims in the UK, this is not the status quo.

I understand that the response to children trafficked in the UK is often severely lacking and inconsistent. Many young victims receive minimal support and are even put at risk of being retrafficked by unscrupulous criminals because of failures in their identification and care. A report by ECPAT UK last year showed that nearly 30% of children identified as trafficked went missing from care at least once, with many never being found. Budget cuts mean that local authorities are struggling to meet the needs of this particularly vulnerable group of children.

We cannot and must not allow this to continue. To truly help these children we must address the failings in the identification and support systems that currently exist. Children of all nationalities who have been exploited should be guaranteed access to specialist care and support. Childhood lasts a lifetime, so if we do not provide this type of support we are building up enormous problems for the future, especially mental health problems, which cause instability, anxiety, a total loss of confidence and lack of trust in humanity.

I therefore intend to put down an amendment in Committee to ensure that this important Bill on victim support includes specific provisions for the specialist support that child victims also need. In the long term, failing to act will result in both a financial and a moral cost to our society. We need to have the moral courage and determination to support children, who are victims of modern enslavement through no fault of their own, and to give them hope for the future.