By Sonia Elks
LONDON, Nov 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Britain has increased aid for victims of trafficking and modern slavery after deep cuts to their living allowances were challenged in court, documents seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation show.
Survivors seeking asylum in Britain will be able to claim back money for travel to essential appointments such as therapy which they previously had to pay from a daily living allowance of about £5 ($6.51).
Earlier this year, the government cut their subsistence payments from £65 to £38 a week, in what campaigners said was "a gift" to exploiters.
Jakub Sobik of campaign group Anti-Slavery International welcomed the move to cover travel costs but said victims would still have to pay the costs up front, claiming them back later.
"It leaves these extremely vulnerable people being part of an often hostile bureaucratic system that scrutinises their every move and fails to support their special needs," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A Home Office spokesman confirmed that asylum seekers being supported to recover from slavery would be eligible for funding to travel to appointments from November 1.
"Modern slavery and human trafficking are abhorrent crimes and this government is committed to helping survivors recover from their exploitation and rebuild their lives," a spokesman for the department said.
People who say they have been enslaved can get counselling, housing, and a weekly subsistence payment during a recovery period under the government's National Referral Mechanism (NRM) — the scheme whereby victims are identified and given support.
A document shared with asylum seekers in the scheme last week announced "new measures" to offer "further financial assistance" to those who need it.
"We recognise that as a potential victim of modern slavery you may be attending important appointments or receiving services to help with your recovery," said the document. "You will no longer be expected to pay for the costs from your asylum support allowance."
The change in policy follows a judicial review last week of the legality of the cuts to subsistence allowances. No ruling has yet been made.
A lawyer for one 19-year-old asylum seeker involved in the court hearing said the cuts left survivors unable to meet their basic living needs and at risk of being exploited again.
"He is being left in a position where he has to choose between travelling to his therapy or staying at home and being able to eat bread," said Silvia Nicolaou Garcia of Simpson Millar solicitors. "Traffickers are serious and organised criminal gangs and they know how to prey on the vulnerabilities of our clients."
At least 13,000 people across Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation, and domestic servitude. But police say the true figure could be in the tens of thousands.
The government said changes in the rate of subsistence payments would not reduce the overall funding available for survivors as they will be able to access support for a longer period under changes announced last October.
($1 = 0.7683 pounds)
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)