Lack Of UK Government Support For Modern Slavery Victims


The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) predicted in 2013 that there are approximately 10,000 to 13,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK. It is a growing problem in the UK and, as The Guardian reports, current Home Office legislation, which provides support for victims of modern slavery, needs revision. A high court judge stated that cutting off all statutory support 45 days after formally identifying someone as a victim of slavery causes “irreparable harm to very vulnerable individuals.” The judge ruled that the 45-day cut off is to be suspended immediately and that assistance must be extended to the estimated 600 people currently requiring support. Although this is a positive change to domestic policy about modern slavery, further steps need to be taken in order to fully tackle the problem in the UK and worldwide.

In 2016 the UK’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, called modern slavery the “the great human rights issue of our time.” She went on to say that more resources will be allocated to tackle the problem at home and overseas. May oversaw the creation of the Modern Slavery Act, which was formally established in 2015, but recent high court rulings suggest the government is failing the victims it is obligated to protect. Ahmed Aydeed, the public law director at Dennis Lewis – the firm that brought the case to the high court – is “happy” about this suspension, saying that “there is no clinical nor logical basis to limit support to 45 days after they’ve been formally identified as victims.”

According to an opinion piece by members of the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, asylum seekers are the most common targets for trafficking and modern slavery. The authors claim that treating modern slavery as a criminal offence defines the problem as “a relationship between just the victim and perpetrator.” Therefore, it acts as a “smokescreen” for larger problems with governmental legislation that “can encourage exploitation.” For instance, present policies ban asylum seekers from work. This places undue economic pressure on asylum seekers, who receive only £37.75 a week to live on. Therefore, changing restrictive legislation is more effective, because it is a long-term solution to an ever-present problem.

Since the establishment of the Modern Slavery Act, there has been an exponential increase in reports of potential victims of modern slavery. The NCA reports that from 2017-2018 there was a 36% increase of reports to UK authorities. Moreover, modern slavery is not just a problem that is confined to the UK. The Home Office estimates there are “45 million victims across the world.” Countries such as the UK and Nigeria are beginning to work transnationally in order to tackle the “root” of the problem.

However, there is not one “root” cause of modern slavery. It can come from so many different directions that are both local and global. Therefore, changing UK legislation to demand indefinite support for victims of modern slavery is important, because it removes vulnerable individuals from potentially falling through the gaps back into a cycle of exploitation.

Jonathan Boyd

I am a social anthropology undergraduate at the University of Manchester. I am interested in indigenous rights, international development and postcolonial theory.
Jonathan Boyd