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Crocodile tears

The corridors of Westminster have been echoing with the sound of self-congratulation as the Home Secretary, Theresa May, launched her draft White Paper, which includes the Modern Day Slavery Bill, in Parliament on 16th December. Politicians of all hues rushed to condemn the horrors of human trafficking in the UK today. TTRP will be looking at the Bill in more detail as it progresses through Parliament, but a few aspects stand out.

As noted in our post in October, the consultation process for the Bill’s development follows an odd trajectory. Frank Field MP (Lab), together with Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) and Sir John Randall MP (Con), published the results of their two-month series of evidence gathering sessions, “Establishing Britain as a world leader in the fight against modern slavery”. Despite the short timeframe, these sessions appear to have drawn together a broad range of contributors, from academics to NGOs; developing an extensive evidence base. However, the Home Office didn’t wait for the report’s final submission prior to drafting the Bill. Rather, the draft Bill was published in tandem with the results of the evidence sessions. This super-speedy approach was intended to ensure that the Bill is included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2014. Considering the fact that this Bill is an attempt to streamline the Government’s approach to trafficking by addressing the plethora of existing legislation, this may be a short-sighted approach.

Notable gaps in the Bill include inadequate victim protection measures and a failure to address the challenges faced by child victims of trafficking. It also ignores the fundamental flaws within the Government’s existing response to trafficking, namely poor implementation of existing policies and resourcing for the police, among others. NGOs, at the time of original mooting of the Bill in September, were clear on the issues warranting change, despite this, and their participation in the evidence review, much of what they advocated seems to have been ignored.

A Modern Slavery Unit has been created in the Home Office, though there is limited information on the remit and activities of this unit, beyond the fact it seems to be primarily a law enforcement response to trafficking, rather than taking a more holistic approach to the issue. The Bill itself will now be subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny in both Houses, and in early 2014, a Modern Slavery Action Plan will be published to “set out a comprehensive response to this crime” together with a review of “the operation and effectiveness of the National Referral Mechanism”. The Action Plan will include increased training to the NHS, first responders and the travel industry. We assume that the results of Frank Field’s evidence gathering and further submissions by NGO and others will be fed into the development of the Bill in tandem with the work of the Joint Committees as part of the broader pre-legislative scrutiny process.

In a rare moment of self-awareness in the world of trafficking hysteria, Theresa May admits that the Government’s knowledge of the scale of the problem is limited and relies solely on figures from the National Referral Mechanism. However, she doesn’t indicate that improving the collection of data is a priority for Government beyond a new duty on specified public authorities to report all suspected victims of trafficking to the National Crime Agency.  The accompanying Impact Assessment notes,

The change in the statutory duty to report will generate an additional 1,477 reports per year. [though it does not provide any concrete evidence for the use of this figure but rather gives a vague calculation… The extent to which human trafficking may be reduced following the introduction of this measure is unknown. …It is not known how many additional reports on potential victims of human trafficking will be generated… and based on this intelligence information [from the UK Human Trafficking Centre], we estimate that a statutory duty to report any potential victims of human trafficking will result in the identification and thus reporting of around 1,500 additional cases.

In other words, the impact remains unknown – figures were chosen based on assumptions and don’t really tell us anything at all.  Clearly all signs of good policymaking.  The piece de résistance is this: “no additional monitoring requirements would be introduced alongside the new statutory duty.” Just to be clear, even if we assume that the above figures are totally correct, the Government is not bothering to evaluate or monitor the impact of the proposed measures on either the affected statutory bodies or the people it purports to help – genius.

Perhaps the Home Office should have waited for the Evidence Review after all, which advocates data collection as a statutory duty of the Anti-Slavery Commissioner on the premise that,

A Commissioner would ensure that such deficiencies of data were addressed in the medium to long term, enabling those who deal with modern slavery not only to understand and respond effectively to present phenomena, but to recognise and proactively work to combat developing phenomena.

As part of this work, as outlined by the Review, the proposed Commissioner would analyse the demand behind trafficking including “reviewing the domestic market for prostitution”. It is hoped that this reference to prostitution is given as an example only, and that the domestic market for other kinds of forced labour and exploitation would also be considered.

In more promising news, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking is currently examining collection methods for statistical data on trafficking. It is hoped that the results of this inquiry are made widely available and that the Home Office utilises this information to improve its own approach trafficking data gathering.

The work of the APPG makes a positive change from the usual hyperbole about the numbers of victims held captive by ‘evil slave drivers’. Though James Brokenshire MP, the Security Minister at the Home Office, in charge of taking the Bill through Parliament, seems oblivious to the limitations of the existing data. In response to the discovery in late November of three women held in “in slavery” in South London (the details of which remain confused) he claimed there could be up to 6,000 people “being held as slaves in the UK”. A factoid seemingly pulled from thin air.

It seems extraordinary that the Home Office is so keen to develop new legislation, and arguably revamp the UK’s entire new approach to human trafficking, on such limited statistical information. Only on an issue as emotive as this does it appear to be acceptable for Government resources to be deployed on such a limited evidence base. The absence of solid statistics is compounded by the failure of the Home Office to incorporate the results of the Evidence Review, and the reactions of NGO working on the frontline, prior to the development of the Bill. Those more cynical might argue that such an approach says more about Theresa May’s desire to market herself as the UK’s newest William Wilberforce than it does about any real desire to tackle this issue in any robust or effective manner.

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2 Comments

  1. […] 200-year old campaign against slavery in its efforts to combat human trafficking. Caroline Parkes has already pointed out weaknesses in the provisions of the draft Bill published last […]

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