LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain is halving the financial support it gives potential victims of modern slavery, in a move campaigners say endangers survivors and belies claims the country is leading efforts to eradicate the crime.
People who say they have been enslaved can enter the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and get counseling, housing and a weekly stipend of 65 pounds ($90) while the government decides whether or not to recognize them as victims.
Yet the allowance - which is expected to cover costs including food, transport and medication - is being cut by almost half to 38 pounds ($53) per week, according to the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG), a group of charities.
A spokesman for the Home Office (interior ministry) said potential slavery victims would receive the same allowance as asylum seekers as they have “similar essential living needs”.
“We know that traffickers seek out people who are struggling to keep their heads above water,” said Caroline Robinson, director of Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX).
“This cut is a gift to all those would-be exploiters,” Robinson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email.
Activists and law enforcement have long criticized the NRM, saying it does not guarantee long-term support for survivors, and leaves many scared to seek help for fear of deportation.
The government in October announced an overhaul to the system for potential slavery victims, with a raft of changes including extra shelter and support, and drop-in services.
Yet pledging to improve care while cutting aid is “one step forward, two steps back”, according to Anna Sereni of the ATMG.
“It makes no sense to rescue people from exploitation only to keep them in poverty,” said Kate Roberts, head of office at the Human Trafficking Foundation.
Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly vowed to tackle modern slavery, and Britain passed a 2015 law introducing life sentences for traffickers, forcing firms to address the risk of forced labor, and protecting people at risk of being enslaved.
At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labor, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude - but police say the true figure could be in the tens of thousands with slavery operations on the rise.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org