Being angry about modern slavery is not enough

Last month saw Theresa May pass her first 100 days in office as the nation’s Prime Minister.

Obviously a lot of attention has been focused on her views and how her term as Prime Minister will differ from her predecessor.

Since she made that speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street certainly a number of decisions and changes have already been put in place, from Heathrow to selective education.

However when looking back on her first 100 days in office there is one particular interview that I think is significant.

A few weeks ago at the end of a Radio 4 Today interview Theresa May was asked the telling question by Nick Robinson as to what makes her angry.  Her reply is worth noting.  Her response was ‘injustice’.  She then gave two specific examples, of child sexual exploitation and modern day slavery.

One aspect of Theresa May’s political career that is much overlooked is her achievement in seeing the passage of the Modern Day Slavery Act, which was enacted in March 2015.

In summary the legislation unified and simplified previous legislation and introduced new law enforcement powers.  It increased sentencing powers and strengthened protections available for survivors.   The Act also established the first Independent  Anti-Slavery Commissioner as well as placing a duty on large businesses to play a part in eradicating slavery from global supply chains.

With such a description of actions flowing from this legislation it would be tempting to think one of the most significant injustices has now been largely addressed. 

The reality is many miles from that.

Even during the passage of the legislation I highlighted a number of weaknesses in the proposed legislation relating to the protection of children.

More recently, in her one of final actions as Home Secretary Theresa May asked Caroline Haughey to review the Modern Day Slavery Act.

It says a great deal about the magnitude of tackling modern day slavery that this review has already led to 29 recommendations for further action to ensure effective action is taking against modern slavery.

And the Haughey report does not stand in isolation.

The Human Trafficking Foundation  has recently criticised the Home Office for ‘utterly failing’ victims of modern slavery, leaving some without accommodation or the right to work or access to benefits.   

The former Conservative MP and now chairman of the foundation Antony Steen stated: “once the 45-day recovery period for victims has ended the state washes it hands of them, leaving them to fall prey once again to traffickers.”

And if this wasn’t enough just last month a report by the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) again urged the United Kingdom to improve protection of child victims of trafficking.  The organisation declared that despite some improvements, the UK continues to fail to identify trafficked children and prevent them from going missing from local authority care.

So there is now a real body of evidence highlighting where legislation needs to be strengthened and other policy changes made to ensure the fight against modern day slavery effectively takes place.   These changes are urgently needed.

The size of the problem of human trafficking, of both adults and children, is almost impossible to overestimate.  A few years ago the US State Department revealed that at a global level people trafficking ranks as the third largest source of income for organised crime, coming after only drugs and the arms trade.

The UK Government estimates that there are around 13,000 people in modern day slavery in the UK today. Over 3,000 people, including nearly 1,000 children, were referred to British authorities as potential victims of slavery in 2015, a 40% increase on the previous year.  Now in some respects that is a positive development.  However the other side of the coin is the harsh fact that there are at least 10,000 more adults and children who are slaves in our own country, but are going unreported.

So my message to our new Prime Minister is that she is totally right to be angry about modern day slavery.

But anger alone is not enough.  Now more than ever she has the power to help tackle one of the greatest injustices existing in this country.


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