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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 8th September 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour 3:30 pm, 8th September 2017

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to participate in this Second Reading, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McColl, on his Bill. I apologise for not attending the helpful briefing the noble Lord organised, but I have read the blog he has penned, which has been published by the Co-op for its millions of members to read this morning. I declare an interest as a Co-operative as well as a Labour Member of your Lordships’ House and that the Young Foundation, the research and innovation institute in Bethnal Green, of which I am currently CEO, is working with the Co-op at the moment.

As the noble Lord explained in his compelling and detailed introduction of the Bill, it is vital that victims of modern slavery be supported in order to help them rebuild their lives. Like others, I congratulate the Government and the Prime Minister on the Modern Slavery Act, but it is a job only half done if the means to support new lives is not provided at the same time. Not to do so is, as the noble Lord, Lord McColl, said, not giving victims proper support and thus endangering the progress of their recovery.

I want to talk about the work that the Co-op is doing in this regard, which has been mentioned by several other Members in this debate, and then I have a question for the Minister. I knew that I could be confident that my noble friend Lady Massey and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, would talk with eloquence and passion about trafficked children, so I knew that I did not need to go into that territory. In spring this year, the Co-op launched Bright Future, which is an employment pathway to make the journey from victim to survivor by moving into permanent employment. The goal of Bright Future is to provide a pathway to paid employment and a route to wider integration into society for victims of modern slavery. In 2017 the Co-op will offer at least 30 people who have been rescued from conditions of slavery in the UK the opportunity of a paid work placement and, if they are ready, a guaranteed job. Central to this programme is the dignity that paid, freely chosen employment provides. Without this, there is a real chance that people could fall back into the hands of those who have exploited them and for the terrible, unspeakable cycle of enslavement to begin again.

The British Co-operative movement has taken innovative and progressive action on social and economic issues for almost 200 years. This is but the latest such action. The Co-op is working in partnership with others, including City Hearts, the anti-slavery charity mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey.

UK businesses are perfectly placed to provide employment opportunities for the more than 13,000 victims —we know that is an underestimate—of modern slavery rescued in the UK every year as they seek to rebuild their lives. I am proud that the Co-op is leading in a field that other businesses can follow. I hope other businesses will recognise the potential of the model the Co-op has developed, and consider how they might adopt and adapt it for their purposes. The aim is to share the learning and to have at least five of the Co-op’s key food suppliers in 2017 supporting Bright Future. Imagine if all the large UK retailers adopted programmes like this and used their supply chains—the inroads that would make for those 13,000 victims identified at present. What a positive future that could offer them on the vital journey from victim to survivor.

The Co-op intends to increase the number of charity partners involved in Bright Future. In addition to City Hearts, it is also now working with the charity Snowdrop, which mentors and supports survivors in Sheffield. The Co-op is committed to doing this because we believe that working in partnership with others, including our competitors, is an opportunity to achieve more for the communities we serve throughout the UK.

The research launched by the Co-op today reveals a real appetite among responsible businesses to support victims by providing employment opportunities. However, unfortunately, the 45-day support currently available is not sufficient for victims to get to be work ready—other Members have mentioned this, and the Minister must be in no doubt at all that the contents of this Bill are very important to make this work. An extension to a year would increase victims’ chances of building a new life and reduce the risk of retrafficking. Businesses want to help but need enhanced victim support to do so. Would the Minister care to respond to this suggestion and would the Government consider making this possible?

To help the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in the passage of this Bill, which I strongly support, it is also very important that noble Lords recognise that piecemeal amendments to it will not help its passage: it needs to stay pretty much as it is now. I call upon the Government to support and enable the Bill.