Today, the Nationality and Borders Bill passed its third reading, and various attempts to limit harms to trafficking survivors were rejected at report stage.
This is our statement:
“We are dejected after today’s vote. Even modest compromises, proposed to mitigate harm against trafficking victims, were rejected by Government in the Nationality and Borders Bill’s report stage.
New clause 138 (tabled by Stuart McDonald MP) would have removed the Bill’s ‘trauma deadline’, which will now see survivors penalised for not sharing horrific details of their exploitation ‘quickly enough’.
Meanwhile, new clause 6 (tabled by Holly Lynch MP) would have prevented the support limitations in Part 5 from applying to child trafficking victims. However, now that this measure has also been rejected, we will see a tougher set of criteria applied to support access, even amongst those exploited as children.
Lastly, new clause 47 (tabled by Iain Duncan Smith MP) would have extended basic support for trafficking survivors to a modest minimum of 12 months. Instead, this clause was not put to a vote, so survivors will face a harsher system with only a guaranteed minimum of 30 days’ safe housing, counselling and subsistence. [Edit, 9th December 2021: Whilst Government has committed to a minimum of 12 months’ “appropriate individualised support” for “those in need of tailored support”, this case-by-case approach is far from an enshrined right for every victim. Government will still be able to use complete discretion in deciding which survivors ‘deserve’ higher levels of assistance, if any.]”
“In essence, Part 5 in the Nationality and Borders Bill is creating a direction of travel in which survivors are asked to shoulder greater burdens of proof, whilst the support they can access becomes less and less tangible.”
We must now mobilise to curtail some of the most serious damage to survivors from being enacted. Take our online action, mobilising politicians to reject Part 5.
About Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill
Currently, survivors of slavery in the UK face a ‘lottery’ of support, often struggling to access safe housing[i], counselling, or even basic financial subsistence consistently, despite having a legal right to access such help[ii]. During recovery, severely exploited people are at increased risk of suicide attempts, long-term and severe depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)[iii], health complications as a result of sexually transmitted infections[iv], and dependency or withdrawal where traffickers use alcohol and drugs as tools of coercion[v]. Delays in support can significantly hamper survivors’ ability to begin recovery. We are so concerned that support will be even harder for survivors to access under the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Under Part 5 of the Borders Bill, many survivors will see their support cut due to the creation of cold-hearted ‘trauma deadlines’, which will remove support for survivors who do not share details of their abuse quickly enough (clauses 57 and 58).
The Bill also includes concerning clauses which would see survivors subjected to greater risk of rejection earlier in their recovery journey (clause 59) and blocked from accessing help if they have a conviction of 12 months (clause 62). The latter move has been tabled despite the Home Office’s own data showing that a majority of reported survivors have been forced to commit some form of criminal activity as a result of their exploitation[vi]. For this reason, the so-called ‘public order exemption’, for survivors with convictions, is a draconian and cruel step backwards which will rob support from many of the most vulnerable.
As the Nationality and Borders Bill makes its way through Parliament, more than 100 non-profit organisations have raised the alarm on Part 5[vii].
Clauses 57-58: Cruel ‘trauma deadlines’
Survivors are frequently psychologically, physically or sexually abused by traffickers as a means of maintaining control[viii]. For this reason, the traumatic nature of both exploitation and ill-treatment at the hand of exploiters can result in severely delayed disclosure by victims. Now, under so-called ‘Trafficking Information Notices’, even survivors recognised as potentially ‘genuine’ by the Home Office will see basic support provisions revoked if they do not disclose details of their abuse ‘quickly enough’. A lack of guaranteed immigration protection also puts such survivors at risk of deportation.
Clause 59: Greater risk of rejection
Referral into the ‘National Referral Mechanism’ (NRM) is the UK’s gateway to support for people who have experienced trafficking or slavery. However, there are significant shortcomings in the referral process.
Many survivors are suspicious of authorities due to fear of deportation, past experiences where an authority has failed them, or anxiety around organized criminal networks retaliating against themselves or loved ones. Last year, as many as 2,178 suspected trafficking victims were identified by UK authorities but never referred on for support[ix].
Now, under clause 59, the first decision-making stage in the NRM will be made even ‘tougher’ earlier in the process. This first stage is where urgent help is allocated, such as safe housing. Changes to restrict the number of survivors who can access this first-stage support will put many at even greater risk of deportation, destitution, or even re-trafficking.
Clause 62: Blocks to support access
Under clause 62, survivors of criminal exploitation will likely miss out on support. A new ‘public order’ exemption will ban survivors from support if they have a conviction of 12 months or more. Many non-violent crimes carry 12 month convictions, including activity routinely enforced by traffickers (such as marijuana cultivation or petty theft).
In a majority of cases, traffickers force their victims to undertake criminal activity as part of their exploitation, putting more than half of reported survivors at risk of ‘support bans’ under Clause 62. We are concerned that Clause 62 will create a two-tier system of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ survivors, potentially classing thousands out of support.
Wider changes in the Bill
The spirit with which the wider Bill has been introduced is also counter to the Government’s stated aim of identifying trafficking. Moves to allow for off-shore and ‘out-of-town’ processing of asylum claims, the criminalisation of people fleeing danger, and the creation of a two-tier asylum process will make it even harder for practitioners to win the trust of survivors whose cases may first come to light within the immigration system. We are worried that significant portion of the Borders Bill, intending to punish people with insecure immigration status, will have a significant impact on survivors of modern slavery, and our concerns are shared by the UK’s Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton:
“I am concerned that these changes would make the identification of victims of modern slavery harder. I support the government’s focus on disrupting criminal networks, but measures taken should not increase the vulnerability of those already in precarious situations.”
“Differential treatment of refugees based on the nature of their arrival may only serve to exacerbate vulnerability.” [x]
[i] Hibiscus (2020). Closed Doors. Accessible: https://hibiscusinitiatives.org.uk/closed-doors-a-new-report-by-hibiscus/
[iii] Iglesias-Rios, L., Harlow, S.D., Burgard, S.A. et al. (2018). Mental health, violence and psychological coercion among female and male trafficking survivors in the greater Mekong sub-region: a cross-sectional study. BMC Psychol, 6 (56). Accessible: https://bmcpsychology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40359-018-0269-5
[iv] Oram, S., Abas, M., Bick, D., Boyle, A., French, R., Jakobowitz, S., Khondoker, M., Stanley, N., Trevillion, K., Howard, L., & Zimmerman, C. (2016). Human trafficking and health: A survey of male and female survivors in England. American Journal of Public Health, 106 (6). Accessible: https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303095
[v] Salvation Army, Black Country Women’s Aid, Bright Day Consulting (2018). A Few Doors Down: The Links between Substance Abuse and Modern Slavery. Accessible: https://issuu.com/salvationarmyuk/docs/a_few_doors_down_- _the_links_betwee?e=5764755/63417485
[vi] Home Office (2021). Modern Slavery: National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify Statistics. Accessible: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/970995/modern-slavery-national-referral-mechanism-statistics-end-year-summary-2020-hosb0821.pdf pg. 11
[vii] Human Trafficking Foundation et al (2021). A Statement from Leading Organisations in the Anti Slavery Sector. Accessible: https://afterexploitation.files.wordpress.com/2021/12/a524f-antislaverysectorstatementn26bbill.pdf
[viii] Hemmings, S., Jakobowitz, S., Abas, M. et al. Responding to the health needs of survivors of human trafficking: a systematic review. BMC Health Serv Res. Accessible: https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-016-1538-8
[ix] Home Office (2021). Modern Slavery: National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify Statistics. Accessible: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/970995/modern-slavery-national-referral-mechanism-statistics-end-year-summary-2020-hosb0821.pdf pg. 11 Thornton, S., (2021). Correspondence to Home Secretary by Independent Anti Slavery Commissioner. Accessible: