MPs say modern slavery ‘no longer a priority’ for the UK Government

December 8, 2023

Louise Gleich, Senior Researcher for the Modern Slavery Unit at Justice and Care and the Centre for Social Justice, shares her thoughts following a new Home Affairs Select Committee report released today.

Modern slavery is ‘no longer a priority for the UK Government’, according to the damning verdict of a group of cross-party MPs who sit on the Home Affairs Select Committee. 

The Committee today published their report into human trafficking and modern slavery. They have concluded the Government’s focus on illegal migration has come at a cost, particularly for thousands of British victims of modern slavery – most of them children, who continue to fall through the gaps in support. 

Having taken evidence from leading prosecutors, police and charities, among others, the Committee recommends in its new report that there should be a roll-out of the Justice and Care Victim Navigator programme. It says the project, which sees specialists work alongside police teams and provide support to survivors of modern slavery, should be expanded and utilised in all cases of the crime. 

We are now calling on the Government to step up, and fund this crucial investment – we are hopeful that the MPs’ conclusions will help those in power to acknowledge what we’ve known for years: To ensure traffickers are brought to justice, it is critical for survivor care to be prioritised.

This report is a timely intervention from MPs. It echoes our concerns that we shared with the Committee that understandable concern about arrivals of migrants by small boats across the channel has led to a confusion of people smuggling with human trafficking (a type of modern slavery) and diverted attention from measures needed to address the brutal exploitation of children, women and men on UK soil.

Now is the time to refocus. We welcome the Committee’s endorsement of our recommendation that the Government urgently needs to publish a new modern slavery strategy to re-energise efforts to tackle this crime and once again make it a priority. At the centre of that strategy must be increasing investigations, prosecutions and convictions of modern slavery offenders and strengthening support for victims – especially British nationals who too often get missed in a system many still think is only for foreign nationals.

The Committee has recognised what we have identified in our research and through Justice and Care’s Victim Navigator programme — that victim support is essential to successful prosecutions, as well as being central to promoting recovery and preventing re-exploitation. The report notes ‘the role fulfilled by Victim Navigators is essential to supporting victims in the criminal justice process and enabling investigation teams to build evidential cases’.

We are also very pleased to see the Committee echo recommendations we have previously made – including for modern slavery to be a key priority for police forces, for increased training in modern slavery for officers and more specialist modern slavery teams within forces, and for urgent steps to be taken to address businesses that are still failing to comply with the minimal reporting requirements under the Modern Slavery Act.

Tatiana Gren-Jardan, The Head of the Modern Slavery Policy Unit at Justice and Care and the Centre for Social Justice, gives evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in May (Picture: ParliamentLiveTV/BBC)

On top of this, MPs endorsed our recommendation that confirmed modern slavery victims should have priority access to housing where they are eligible. Moving into a safe future needs to start with a safe place to live, especially for those who may have been victimised in their own home through cuckooing.

Just a week ago, the Home Office issued a newsletter announcing that it ‘will not be moving forward’ with its commitment of 12 months’ support for victims with a positive Conclusive Grounds decision by the end of 2024. Justice and Care, alongside our policy unit partner the Centre for Social Justice, has long called for sustained support for confirmed victims and we hope urging from the Committee to ‘deliver on this commitment’ leads the Government to think again.

In a week where the news has once again focussed heavily on illegal migration, there is no mistaking that the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report is an urgent call to arms in the fight against modern slavery. We must never forget the thousands being abused, day-in-day out, at the heart of our communities – including many British children.

The UK was once a world leader in the battle against this sickening crime, now it’s time for the British Government to step up to the plate once again. The Government should start by making cuckooing a criminal offence through the Criminal Justice Bill and putting modern slavery victims directly into the Victims and Prisoners Bill.