Clause 42 - Guidance about identifying and supporting victims

Part of Modern Slavery Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 14 Hydref 2014.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Ceidwadwyr, Congleton 2:00, 14 Hydref 2014

Before the break I was speaking about support and assistance and the fact that at present there is a 45-day reflection and recovery period provided for victims on a policy basis, but that it does not appear in statute. Clause 42 is clearly a step forward in that regard and is to be welcomed, but it does not offer victims the firm assurance about the availability of assistance or the form that that support should take.

In its 2012 report, the Council of Europe Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings invited the UK to enshrine the right to a recovery and reflection period in law. The evidence review carried out for the Home Secretary prior to the publication of the draft Bill recommended that the Bill should include details of the assistance available to victims. Submissions to the evidence review from the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance, a support provider for victims of trafficking based in Scotland, said:

“Clear, legally defined obligations towards supporting potential victims of trafficking will improve confidence in the state to provide protection for them, further encourage cooperation and lead to the successful prosecution of perpetrators.”

That sentiment was echoed in evidence to the Joint Committee and in submissions made to this Committee. Speaking only of guidance fails to provide the assurance to victims that they are entitled to assistance. Setting that fundamental principle in legislation would make it clear that the Modern Slavery Bill is a victim-focused Bill, not one concerned with just criminal justice matters.

The forms of assistance listed in new clause 29 reflect the levels of assistance that are to be provided under the EU anti-trafficking directive and the European convention. Incorporating those standards into our domestic legislation would put this country’s commitment to those international standards beyond doubt and ensure that whatever changes in Government policy or budgets occur, they will remain the benchmark for victim care.

Let me turn to minimum standards. Another difficulty that the new clause seeks to address is the lack of consistent standards or monitoring of the support that is provided. In its submission to the Committee, the charity Unseen described a “post-code lottery” in providing care for survivors. That is clearly unacceptable, and we must ensure that the high quality of care offered by the best providers is available to all victims. The Salvation Army, which currently holds the victims support contract for England and Wales, expressed concerns to the Home  Affairs Committee last year about the standard and suitability of accommodation provided to victims of trafficking who are seeking asylum and housed in National Asylum Support Service accommodation. GRETA—the Council of Europe group of experts on action against trafficking in human beings—the Centre for Social Justice, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group and others have all recommended the introduction of minimum standards for the care provided for victims. Will the Minister kindly reflect on how minimum standards for victim care are to be provided for in the Bill?

Let me turn to the longer period of support provided for in new clause 29. I want to raise a number of points to probe the issue. I do not intend to push the new clause to a vote, but I would like the Minister to respond in the same vein as she did to the amendments we debated this morning. New clause 29 provides for a longer period of support—90 days rather than the current 45, which I am sure all members of the Committee would agree is more appropriate. Recovery from an ordeal such as human trafficking and modern-day slavery is not something that can be achieved quickly. Post-traumatic stress disorder can go on for a long time indeed—much longer than 90 days. We must ensure that at least the initial period of support provides victims with the space to begin the healing process, to compose themselves and to make informed decisions about engaging with police investigations and with others about how they want to move forward with their long-term rehabilitation.

I am not convinced that our current system adequately prepares people to begin that longer-term recovery. When Andrew Wallis of Unseen gave evidence to the Committee about the challenges faced by a victim reaching the end of the 45-day period, he said:

“at the moment, we have someone falling down the side of a cliff, we give them 45 days in a safety net and then we remove the safety net and they carry on falling down the side of the cliff.”––[Official Report, Modern Slavery Public Bill Committee, 21 July 2014; c. 24, Q54.]

He talked about the practical challenges caused by the inconsistency between the 45 days of support under the NRM and the much longer time frame required to obtain a national insurance number, which takes a minimum of 72 days and provides access to many things.

The Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group highlighted the lack of support for reintegration following the initial 45-day period, saying:

“Those left without adequate support may find themselves isolated, vulnerable and at risk of further exploitation. Currently the only hope for longer term comprehensive assistance for victims of trafficking in the UK is through the private funding of service providers.”

It is therefore important that we put in place systems to support those who survive this horrific crime and help them to rebuild their lives safely, whether by returning home to another country or by seeking leave to remain here. We must address those issues and enable victims to have a smooth, positive transition from the initial period  of care into other forms of support. I would be grateful if the Minister could comment on how the Bill can help to achieve that aim.

I have mentioned several areas that require improvement. Legislation can be used to enhance support. The existing frameworks are available only for victims of human trafficking who choose to enter the NRM. Mindful of that fact, I support the proposal in the clause for the Secretary of State to issue guidance regarding the support provision for victims of slavery and human trafficking. However, the nature and format of that support is unclear from the text of the clause.

Each of the areas of concern I have mentioned have greater significance when we consider providing support to all victims of modern slavery, whether or not they have been trafficked. We cannot simply bolt the provision of assistance to victims of clause 1 offences on to the NRM without considering the weaknesses in the current system. The circumstances of victims of trafficking, slavery and forced labour are similar, as we have noted many times in the Committee, but there are also differences among them, not least in the international obligations. We must take all those factors into account when we consider how to provide support. Will the Minister clarify how support for victims of slavery and forced labour, as opposed to victims of trafficking, will be provided, and how the two systems will interact?