An independent review of the Co-op Group’s Bright Future programme, which supports victims of modern slavery, has called for greater flexibility in the benefits system to help survivors gain valuable work experience.
Devised by the Group in conjunction with the charity City Hearts, Bright Future has provided scores of job opportunities for people rescued from slavery.
An integral part of the scheme is that candidates are offered a four-week paid work placement before a non-competitive interview. However, this can lead to some participants losing benefits which is problematic, especially if it does not lead to a permanent job.
The independent review of the programme was carried out by the University of Liverpool and makes several recommendations to streamline the scheme. One recommendation is to clarify the benefits position for participants in Bright Future – and the government has been called on to take a more flexible approach in relation to the benefits system for victims.
In 2017, there were 5,143 potential victims referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the system of support for people where there are grounds to suspect they have been a victim of modern slavery. In 2018 the number rose to 6,993, an increase of 36 per cent.
Speaking at a summit of charity and business leaders in Manchester – which was attended by the new anti-slavery commissioner Sara Thornton – the Group’s director of campaigns, Paul Gerrard, called for a more flexible and creative approach to how benefits are assessed for those on the Bright Future programme.
“The benefits system remains a challenging area but there have to be ways to mitigate some of the disadvantages experienced by those who have experienced modern slavery which is a wicked crime and a blight on our society,” he said.
“For example, could a Bright Future placement be considered ‘therapeutic work’? If so, it would be exempted from affecting benefits until the candidate was in a stable position.”
Ms Thornton said: “The Co-op is leading the way by demonstrating the positive impact business can have in supporting victims of modern slavery. The Bright Future programme gives participants the opportunity to engage in paid work and develop essential skills which helps them to recover from their traumatic experience.”