UK must improve 'lackadaisical' response to modern slavery, MPs say

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Theresa May has been urged by MPs to step up Britain's response to modern slavery because victims face a "lackadaisical" response to their "unimaginable" suffering which can leave them destitute while their abusers go free.

The Work and Pensions Committee praised the Prime Minister for guiding through the "pioneering" Modern Slavery Act 2015 while home secretary, which established new protections for victims.

But it said the Government must now establish "basic minimum safeguards" to allow victims to rebuild their lives, get enough support to testify against their abusers and be protected from being re-trafficked into the "hell" of slavery.

The cross-party group of MPs called on the Government to properly train frontline staff who are "totally unprepared" to deal with slavery victims.

It heard evidence from one woman who recounted how, when trying to obtain a National Insurance number, her adviser said, audibly through the room: "Oh my God, you were trafficked. Oh my God, I've only seen that on the television."

The lack of training and proper support is hitting efforts to successfully prosecute slave masters as thousands of victims have not come forward, while others end up destitute due to a lack of help, the committee said.

The report said it was unacceptable that the National Referral Mechanism system for identifying victims does not record how many have been through it more than once, which would indicate if they have been re-trafficked.

The committee also called for foreign victims to be given the right to stay in the UK for at least a year, with a personal plan for their recovery, given that refugees are given five years leave to remain once their status is recognised.

Labour MP and committee chairman Frank Field 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 co-ordination in the frontline 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.

"We don't even record instances where the same person is thrown back into this hell, even though that is surely the clearest sign of the failures in our response.

"No society worth its salt can allow this to continue, or fail to support those who fall victim.

"The Prime Minister now needs to open up a further front in her Modern Slavery Act.

"The incoming Government must conduct an urgent review of our national response and put in place some basic minimum safeguards, status, that will allow a person to begin to rebuild a life, testify against their abuser if they feel able, and above all, be protected from the unimaginable but real possibility of falling victim again."

It is estimated that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK.