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Failures in the UK’s system for dealing with modern slavery are allowing the inexcusable scenario of victims being reduced to destitution while their abusers walk free because they are not adequately supported to testify against them, it has been reported.
According to the Work and Pensions Committee’s latest report on victims of modern slavery, front line support for victims is weak, uncoordinated and there are instances where a person is re-trafficked that are not even recorded.
The committee believes that this goes some way into explaining the country’s low conviction record. Currently in the UK, it is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery.
However, the current system for identifying and supporting them out of slavery means that , when identified, they have no automatic formal immigration status or rights. In many cases, the committee found that they are treated with a total lack of understanding or even recognition of their situation.
Key findings from the report show a lack of awareness, training and understanding, as well as a lack of proper support for victims and that is having a negative on the number of successful prosecutions of slave masters.
It is perhaps because of this that thousands of victims are not coming forward. There are also cases where victims have chosen to give evidence against their abusers but have ended up destitute as a result of the poor support and inability to testify against them.
Frank Field MP, chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “While we applaud the leading role the UK has taken in tackling this “barbaric crime”, as the prime minister has called it, when you consider what is at stake, there is a shocking lack of awareness and coordination in the front line services dealing with modern slavery.
“What these people go through is unimaginable, and yet it is happening, here, now, and our response seems almost lackadaisical: a paper exercise earning you recognition as having been enslaved, which then entitles you to almost nothing as far as we can see.”
The committee also revealed that many front-line Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff are not aware of modern slavery, calling on further training for staff on how to spot signs of slavery and deal sensitively with identified victims.
In response to these findings, the committee has said that the DWP must urgently review the benefit support available to victims. This includes those who are assisting the police with investigations.