Anti-slavery charities call for a new approach to support survivors of modern slavery

Victims deserve a system that prioritises their safety and wellbeing. A new manifesto from Unseen and 12 other organisations supporting survivors calls for a fairer approach that puts victims first.
Unseen joins 12 survivor support organisations in a new "Putting victims first" manifesto

Millions of people are trapped in modern slavery around the world, and the UK is no exception. Here at Unseen, we believe that ending this horrific crime requires a system that prioritises the safety and wellbeing of victims.  

Ahead of the general election set to take place on 4 July, a coalition of organisations with extensive experience of supporting survivors of modern slavery, including Unseen, have released the “Putting Victims First” manifesto.  

This important document outlines five key recommendations that the next UK government can implement within its first 100 days to significantly improve victim safety and ensure they get the vital support they need. 

Who's behind the manifesto?

The “Putting Victims First” manifesto represents a powerful call to action from a group of 13 organisations, including Unseen, that work directly with survivors of modern slavery in the UK. These groups are part of the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC), a government-funded programme providing vital support to victims. 

They represent the collective voice of professionals who directly interact with all potential adult victims within the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the Government’s system for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery. 

Since 2011, these organisations have supported over 21,000 survivors, giving them a unique perspective on the challenges faced by victims and the areas where the system can be improved. 

As Unseen CEO Andrew Wallis says: “These survivors have endured unimaginable hardship. We must ensure they receive the support they deserve in a timely and compassionate manner. 

“At Unseen, we see firsthand the gaps in the current system. This manifesto offers a victim-centred approach that is crucial in the fight against modern slavery.” 

What are the recommendations?

Leveraging our deep understanding of existing legislation, the manifesto proposes simple changes that would significantly improve support for victims and reduce the incidence of modern slavery in the UK. 

  1. Prioritise safeguarding: The first recommendation calls for transferring responsibility for modern slavery and human trafficking back to the Minister for Safeguarding, and not sit with the Minister for Immigration. This way, victims are treated with the care and support they need, rather than just seen as an immigration issue. 
  2. Protecting those who need it most: The second recommendation urges the suspension of specific clauses within the 2023 Illegal Migration Act. These clauses prevent victims who have waited the longest for help from accessing vital support and can lead to further trauma. 
  3. Fair and faster decisions: The third recommendation calls for prioritising cases where people have been waiting the longest within the NRM. Right now, victims who have just been identified often get help quicker than those who’ve been waiting long-term for a decision, which isn’t fair and impacts recovery for everyone. 
  4. Trauma-informed support: The fourth recommendation highlights the importance of ensuring no Public Order Disqualifications (PODs) occur without legal representation for potential victims. These disqualifications can remove individuals from crucial support systems, further jeopardising their safety. 
  5. Collaboration and accountability: Finally, the manifesto emphasises the need for different groups to work together, with clear accountability mechanisms. It calls for bringing back Multi-Agency Assurance Panels and a commitment to ongoing collaboration with key statutory agencies and NGOs.  

These recommendations are a practical and achievable step towards tackling modern slavery in the UK. By putting victim safety first, ensuring timely decisions, and implementing a supportive approach, the government can create a more effective system that protects the most vulnerable. 

The manifesto is supported by fellow NGOs Ashiana, Bawso, BCHA, Black Country Women’s Aid, Causeway, Hestia, Medaille Trust, Migrant Help, The Salvation Army, The Snowdrop Project, Saint John of God Hospitaller Services, Palm Cove Society. 

Read the full manifesto to learn more about these critical recommendations. 

What can you do?

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.