MPs on the influential Home Affairs Committee, which scrutinises the work of the Home Office and its associated bodies, say in a report released today that “the fight against human trafficking is, in practice, no longer a priority for the UK Government”.
Hope for Justice was among the organisations that submitted written evidence to the Committee.
The MPs say the Home Office has been showing a “disappointing lack of commitment” to the issue of modern slavery and human trafficking, giving the examples of:
- Recent prioritisation of irregular migration policies over those concerning human trafficking, including the recent transfer of elements of responsibility for modern slavery and human trafficking from the Safeguarding Minister’s portfolio to that of the Immigration Minister
- Claims of migrants ‘abusing the system’
- The lack of outputs from the Home Office modern slavery unit
- The lack of an updated modern slavery strategy
- The 18-month delay in appointing a new Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. Eleanor Lyons was appointed in October and takes up her duties this month.
In their report, they say the Home Office’s misguided priorities are specifically failing UK nationals, who “often fall through gaps in support… as a narrative persists that support systems for victims of human trafficking are centred around migrants.”
The report adds: “The Government’s de-prioritisation of human trafficking is not reflective of the scale of the threat it poses or the gravity of the crimes involved. As was expressed by several stakeholders, human trafficking and modern slavery is not an immigration offence (an offence against the State), it is an exploitation offence (an offence against the individual).”
There were some issues on which the MPs specifically cited evidence given by Hope for Justice and other charities:
- “We also heard concerns over insufficient training for statutory First Responders, with many unable to identify potential victims or unaware of their legal duties in referring potential victims to the NRM.”
- “We heard that it was unhelpful to refer to the total number of NRM referrals within the context of asylum because the figures included referrals of British citizens and people who had permission to stay in the UK as well as those who did not. We again consider that the Government is conflating victims of human trafficking with irregular migration.”
- “We were told how children who are transitioning to adult services at aged 18 are also often placed in unsuitable accommodation, in what was described by several organisations as a ‘cliff-edge’ in the removal of extra protections provided by children’s services.”
Euan Fraser, Senior Policy and Research Advisor at Hope for Justice, said: “We welcome this report from the Home Affairs Select Committee and share many of the Committee’s concerns regarding the Government’s commitment to tackling modern slavery. This report comes just after the Government has announced it will no longer be delivering previous pledges to provide places of safety for survivors or long-term support after they have been conclusively identified as survivors. This is the latest in a series of regressive legislative and policy changes which are harmful to survivors in the UK. The Committee is right to highlight the damaging conflation of modern slavery with immigration enforcement – no more evident than in the Government’s plan to remove survivors of trafficking to Rwanda. Safeguarding must be placed at the heart of our collective response to this issue, not only to better support survivors in their recovery but to help ensure they are able to assist police and prosecutors.”
The MPs on the Committee welcome the fact that there are 4,500 live police investigations, but express concern that relatively few investigations seem to progress to prosecution and conviction – in 2022, they say, only 286 referrals were made to the Crown Prosecution Service. News website NationalWorld.com published an investigation earlier this year which showed a lack of charges being brought – in fact the percentage of modern slavery offences which result in a charge being brought had dropped every year since the Modern Slavery Act was brought in, despite Home Office data suggesting the actual number of modern slavery crimes continues to grow year-on-year.
The Home Affairs Committee’s report describes prevention efforts in particular as “woefully inadequate” when these should in fact be at the heart of the Government’s anti-trafficking strategy.
A Home Office spokesperson was quoted by newspapers as responding: “Human trafficking is a heinous crime and we have taken action to stop evil gangs from preying on innocent people. The landmark Illegal Migration Act has expanded our measures, so that if someone is identified as a potential victim of modern slavery or human trafficking, we will ensure they are safely returned home or to another safe country, away from those who have trafficked them.”
A National Crime Agency spokesperson told media: “The NCA works with a range of partners in the UK and overseas to combat the threat from modern slavery and human trafficking. We continue to coordinate and prioritise regular proactive activity against modern slavery and human trafficking including through Project Aidant, which has seen 1174 arrests made and identified over 2,523 potential victims since 2017. We prioritise the serious and organised criminals presenting the greatest risk to the UK, and those involved in human trafficking are no exception.”