LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hundreds of modern slavery victims in Britain whose allowance payments were illegally slashed can claim back money under a new scheme, yet activists said on Thursday that all survivors face imminent cuts in a “one step forward, two steps back” scenario.
The High Court ruled in November that the government acted unlawfully when it cut subsistence payments for trafficking victims seeking asylum from 65 pounds ($84) to 38 pounds a week - in a move campaigners said was a “gift” for human traffickers.
More than 1,000 survivors are entitled to at least 1 million pounds in repayments, said advocates and lawyers involved in the case, and can now request their money through the state scheme.
“Many victims were suffering due to the cuts, faced destitution .... and risked falling back into situations of labor exploitation,” Caroline Robinson, head the charity Focus on Labor Exploitation, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We welcome the repayment scheme, but wish the government had listened earlier to experts to avoid it happening at all. The (High Court) ruling will hopefully make the government look long and hard at its modern slavery policy, and up its game.”
People who say they have been enslaved can get counseling, housing, legal aid, and allowance payments during a recovery period under the government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) - the scheme whereby victims are identified and given support.
About 5,145 possible victims were referred to the government for assistance in 2017 - up from 3,804 in 2016 - yet campaigners say many slaves remain hidden, often due to fear of authorities.
Despite the High Court ruling on asylum-seeking trafficking victims, Britain is set to proceed imminently with subsistence cuts for all possible slavery victims, a move that was announced last February, said Anna Sereni of Anti-Slavery International.
“We expect the cuts will be implemented next month,” she said. “It will be a case of one step forward, two steps back.”
Britain’s interior ministry was not immediately available to comment, but said last year potential slavery victims would receive the same money as asylum seekers - 38 pounds a week - as they have “similar essential living needs”.
Despite being hailed as a global leader in the anti-slavery drive, Britain said in July it would review its landmark 2015 law amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail traffickers, drive firms to stop forced labor, or help victims.
Britain is home to at least 136,000 modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation - a figure 10 times higher than a government estimate from 2013.
Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by XX. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org