My Lords, I begin my remarks by thanking and commending my noble friend Lord McColl, for once again bringing the concerns of vulnerable and marginalised survivors of modern slavery to the attention of this House. My interest in this Bill comes from its clear objective: to ensure that we have a framework of support for victims which truly responds to their needs and puts their interests first.
Many people in our society face challenges and disadvantages, but victims of modern slavery are among some of the most vulnerable. The experience of being trafficked or exploited not only takes from them their autonomy and sense of self but leaves them materially exposed, with no home, no source of income, no prospect of work, no protection and no community. The support provided to victims during the national referral mechanism can only ever be an immediate response to a crisis situation. The NRM offers assistance to people at the point of extreme vulnerability, when they are identified as being a potential victim, when the police have raided the place where they have been exploited or when they have managed to escape the control of their traffickers. Individuals are offered a safe home, regular meals, support workers and access to medical care. All of this is a vital immediate response to victims experiencing such a crisis.
I welcome the establishment of this support formally through proposed new Section 48A in this Bill, which will ensure that victims of trafficking in England and Wales have similar rights to support to those in Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, we also need to look at the long-term impact of the support framework. There is no doubt that we must provide assistance at the point where a person is first identified as a possible victim. But if the support we provide does not set them up for long-term recovery, all we are doing is to provide a brief respite from one situation of vulnerability before returning them to another perhaps equally exploitative situation.
I am also concerned by the evidence that, as my noble friend Lady Cox has just said, the current framework does not offer victims the support they need to make the transition from victim to survivor. The Centre for Social Justice, of which I was previously executive director, highlighted this problem in its report, It Happens Here. It says:
“In essence, significant support for a victim of modern slavery ends when the decision has been made over their trafficking status. Aftercare provision in the UK must develop a wider response that is victim-centred, forward-looking and which aims to give the survivor the best possible chance at an independent and self-sufficient future”.
It seems to me that this is precisely what Section 48B of the Bill sets out to do.
By providing victims with guaranteed access to services, benefits, and accommodation for one year, victims will have an opportunity through that period to re-establish their skills and their sense of identity and confidence, enabling them to move forward into an independent future. We need to understand that many will not make this journey without that support as they are still dealing with the impact of trauma and anxiety. Support workers in safe houses work hard to try to put things in place for victims when they leave, but the 14-day transition period is simply is not enough. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner said, earlier this year, that 14 days,
“is often not enough time to establish safe and secure pathways to mainstream services”.
The Modern Slavery Act injected much-needed energy into efforts to tackle this terrible crime, but we now need to continue that work in respect of victim support structures. We need to build on the national referral mechanism to create a statutory framework that will not simply give victims short-term protection only to leave them with no help to rebuild their lives. We need to create a wider system that will take people out of dangerous situations, provide a safe haven for them away from their exploiters, and set them on a path to a new future.
The Bill in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, expertly rises to this challenge and provides a very welcome and necessary stage two to the excellent work that the Government have accomplished through the Modern Slavery Act. I encourage the Government to see the Bill as a great opportunity and to seize this opportunity to make it their own. I commend the Bill to the Minister, with my wholehearted support.