MPs criticise government’s strategy for tackling modern slavery

'Victims of modern slavery can face unimaginable horrors but the government’s good intentions have yet to result in coherent action to help them'

The government’s approach to tackling modern slavery suffers from a lack of data and poor monitoring, says the Public Accounts Committee, which is chaired by Labour/Co-op MP Meg Hillier.

In a recent report, the committee, whose role is to examine government efficiency, concludes that coordinated action was critical to helping victims. It argues that the government lacks the data or systems to understand the crime, the demographics and circumstances of the victims, and the perpetrators.

It also found that the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate protection and support, is inefficient, which leads to long waits for the victims. NRF does not capture what happens to victims after they leave it, which means the Home Office does not know whether victims have been re-trafficked.

The committee also points out that the Home Office has no means of monitoring progress or knowing if its Modern Slavery Strategy is working and achieving value for money. The report suggests that the Home Office should set targets, actions, a means of tracking resources, and clear roles and responsibilities within the programme, and asks it to report back by December 2018.

Legislation on supply chain transparency can also be made more effective by actively administering and monitoring compliance as well as publishing a list of companies who have, and have not, complied, says the report.

Other recommendations include setting standards for the current victim care contract to ensure adequate care; the committee wants to see a set of clear, practical steps and good practice guidance to show why there are regional variations in tackling the issue, and identify ways to reduce them. 

Ms Hillier said: “Victims of modern slavery can face unimaginable horrors but the government’s good intentions have yet to result in coherent action to help them.

Related: Labour and Co-op councils sign pledge to drive slavery out of their supply chains

“Government cannot hope to target resources in an effective manner until it properly understands the scale and nature of the challenge. This crime is complex and a piecemeal approach will not cut it. Government must get a grip on what works and what doesn’t; when things change, it must be sufficiently informed and agile to respond.

Committee chair Meg Hillier

“There are flaws to address in the action it has taken thus far. Compliance with supply chains legislation is dismal and long waits in the referrals system are compounding the distress of potential victims. Monitoring of victim support services is poor and there are worrying variations in the response of local police forces.

“Brexit may complicate the picture further and it is critical that government acts swiftly on the concerns set out in our report.”

Gareth Snell, Labour/Co-op MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, added: “I hope the government takes note of these recommendations to ensure that this important legislation is as effective as it should be.”

The UK has had a Modern Slavery Strategy since 2014, being the first country in the world to launch such an initiative. According to the Home Office, there are more than 600 live modern slavery police operations under way. Statistics published by the department show that in 2017 a total of 5,145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the UK’s National Referral Mechanism, a 35% increase on 2016.

Commenting on the report, the Home Office published the following statement: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime that destroys the lives of its victims, which is why we introduced the world-leading Modern Slavery Act in 2015 and have put in place the Modern Slavery Strategy.

“The Public Accounts Committee recognises that the UK is ahead of many countries in responding to modern slavery and the government’s Modern Slavery Taskforce will consider its recommendations carefully.

“We have recently announced reforms to the National Referral Mechanism to make sure it supports more victims at a quicker pace and we are taking action to eradicate modern slavery from the economy, including requiring large businesses to report on how they are tackling and preventing this crime in their supply chains.”

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