In response to the Human Trafficking Foundation report, ‘Life Beyond the Safehouse for Survivors of Modern Slavery in London’
Too many victims of trafficking simply shuffle through the brief Government-funded respite period before being spat back out onto the streets by the National Referral Mechanism.
This view, shared by Hope for Justice, was the subject of a report published last week by the UK’s Human Trafficking Foundation. ‘Life beyond the Safehouse’ examines issues faced by survivors when they are evicted from a safehouse without follow-on care and makes recommendations for the Government for improvement.
Hope for Justice sees regular examples of this in our frontline work. Our specialist team has already provided 96 welfare interventions for trafficking survivors since the start of 2015. In addition to sourcing second phase accommodation, our team works to ensure that our clients receive the support that they are entitled to. These interventions include writing supporting letters for welfare assistance, community care and homelessness provision, as well as advocating on the ground for this assistance. Without these interventions, our clients would face homelessness and destitution.
The need for these, often emergency, interventions flows from the absence of appropriate follow-on care and assistance. On some occasions our team has been informed on the same day that the survivor is being exited from the safehouse that no follow-on accommodation or support has been sourced.
“This is not because safehouses are staffed by the heartless; in fact staff at these facilities are some of the most compassionate professionals around” says Hope for Justice Legal Director, Phillipa Roberts.
So why is it?
Recent changes to government policy and legislation on a number of issues, including welfare assistance for EEA nationals, leaves safehouses with few options. Too many are forced to advise survivors to return home or become homeless.
Both are likely to be unsafe for victims, placing them at risk of being re-trafficked or of facing reprisals from their traffickers for cooperating with the police.
“The reality is that these safehouse teams are backed into an impossible situation by rising referral numbers and an ill-considered Government policy which is having devastating consequences for many trafficking survivors.”
The 45 days of government-funded safehouse provision for trafficking survivors is too short a recovery and reflection period for many to overcome their psychological and physical trauma. These people have often been exposed to violence, intimidation, malnourishment and humiliation over a prolonged period. They have complex needs and simply require time.
“Our biggest challenge is securing access to welfare support because these survivors are not yet in a fit state to work. With so many victims now being identified, the vast, vast majority of follow-on accommodation providers won’t accept a survivor who does not have recourse to Housing Benefit. They simply don’t have the funding to cover that many beds.”
It’s a race against time for Roberts and the team at Hope for Justice to secure welfare so as to shelter these profoundly vulnerable people from the kind of uncertainty that derails recovery. The problem began in 2014, when changes to Government policy made it very challenging for almost all the trafficking survivors Hope for Justice is working with to receive financial support – at a time when they are most vulnerable. This was the unintentional but impacting result of amendments to eligibility for Job Seekers Allowance and Housing Benefit for European Economic Area (EEA) Nationals. This was brought into sharp focus as the year wore on and runs counter to the recent anti-slavery impetus of Home Secretary Theresa May to increase prosecution rates.
The Modern Slavery Bill has great potential to affect change but it does nothing to serve survivors facing eviction after 45 days, many of whom are re-traumatised and vulnerable to re-trafficking by the ensuing homelessness. How can the legislation’s tough sentencing – beloved by ‘law and order’ types – serve justice to traffickers, if the key witnesses are pushed off the radar, homeless and destitute?
“On the practical side too, [45 days] is almost always too little time to resolve practical issues like acquiring a new passport if the trafficker confiscated or sold it or applying for a national insurance number”, continues Roberts.
We must do more to care for survivors and we must start with a review of post-45 day provisions.