Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards, Speaker’s House, 18th October 2016 Speech by Anthony Steen
Six years ago, I piloted my Private Members Bill through Parliament, helped by Lola Young in the Lords. The result – October 18th now UK’s Anti-Slavery Day. I’m delighted we mark it here thanks to Mr Speaker who has been so supportive of the cause and to me personally over the years. Great thanks to the trustees: John Randall, Vice Chairman, Paul Jackson, Treasurer, Vernon Coaker and Helen Grant; exemplary staff and the growing Parliamentary Group led by Fiona Mactaggart.
Not surprisingly, increasing numbers of victims appear each year in the UK, with 1,104 survivors found in London alone in 2015. The Modern Slavery Act proved a milestone with Frank Field, John Randall and Lady Butler-Sloss playing a crucial part in ensuring the Bill was world class persuading Ministers to include the appointment of an Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and a supply chain clause. The Human Trafficking Foundation played a pivotal role with one foot in Parliament and the other with NGOs, currently some 90 in the network and many here tonight.
Traffickers are not too bothered whether UK is in or out of the EU and will continue selling people as commodities, no matter how stringent border controls may be so long as they can make money.
So Home Secretary and Mr Speaker can I ask that together we make a further breakthrough in what is now a world epidemic netting $180bn to traffickers.
Mr Speaker, when you travel the globe and meet your opposite numbers and world leaders perhaps you might suggest they head up a conference of parliamentarians to raise the issue up their political ladder? Our Foundation with the parliamentary group may be able to help here.
Home Secretary, a few simple things you could do which would make a difference (at virtually no cost to the Treasury).
a) Your predecessor, the PM, was understandably concerned that we should go upstream in countries of origin to find out the exact localities victims were coming from, and so pinpoint the areas in which traffickers were operating. We don’t need to go abroad. That information is available right here in Britain. When victims enter government-funded shelters, whilst their country of origin is known, what part of that country is not. Victims have no inhibitions about providing such information. All that is needed is for them to be asked. but they need to be asked. It could prove invaluable to countries like Albania and Romania where trafficking is rife and where they need to know exactly what they are looking for and where. The information is in our grasp and could hold the key to frustrating supply. Two shelters in the UK are already doing this for us but, Home Secretary, can you help with the others which you fund?
b) Our report, Day 46, shows that victims are hidden underground until they come to the surface. They are then cared for in an NGO shelter, funded by government through the Salvation Army. Tragically, after they leave they go off the radar. No one knows where they end up. Victims were hidden; then found; looked after; and then lost again. Surely we can do better than this.
c) When victims leave shelters they leave usually penniless. Yet when traffickers are convicted, victims receive no compensation. The Treasury and the police share anything seized, nothing for victims. Nor is legal aid available for a Criminal Injury Board application and only exceptionally for Employment Tribunals. Could you raise this at the next Cabinet Task Force meeting?
d) Thanks to the Michael Bishop Foundation, Red Light Campaign and the Vandervell Foundation we established a small fund to help post day 46 survivors. In 2014 the fund donated 10 computers to help survivors’ study or look for work. It paid for English courses; purchased kitchen utensils for a woman receiving £35 weekly from government for food but no utensils to cook with. We paid course fees for a child care qualification, we donated clothes, and purchased underwear for women who had nothing with them when they were rescued, and outfits for victims being interviewed for college placements. The point here, HS, is that victims need continuing care after they exit shelters, which is just not available. This is a snapshot of what the voluntary sector is doing all over the UK to help victims. Our book, Day 46, hot off the press, offers some permanent solutions.
e) Finally, the Foundation is successfully building a parliamentary network across Europe, persuading parliamentarians in other European countries to establish parliamentary committees in the framework of their own parliaments separate from Government focusing on modern day slavery. There is no point us driving slavery out of Britain if it simply gets diverted elsewhere. If the Prime Minister’s worldwide mission is to work, it is not just other governments which need to be convinced but their parliaments even more so. Can you help?
I am indebted to you Mr Speaker, the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary for being here this evening and making Anti-Slavery Day such a very special occasion.