By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON, July 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Giving more support to survivors of modern slavery and allowing them to remain in Britain for a year could boost the economy by millions of pounds, university researchers said on Wednesday.
The financial benefits of providing 12 months of assistance — including housing, health care, and legal aid — to people who are recognised by the government as victims would far outweigh the costs, said academics at Britain's Nottingham University.
People who say they have been enslaved can enter the National Referral Mechanism and access care while the government considers their case — which can take from weeks to years.
Those who are confirmed as victims receive 45 days of additional support but have no right to further help or to remain in Britain thereafter, which leaves survivors at risk of homelessness or fresh exploitation, according to activists.
Providing a year of assistance to victims would see Britain profit by making them more employable and reduce their need for emergency medical and housing services, the research found.
Based on an analysis of at least 1,200 people who were recognised as slaves in 2017, supporting them for a year would have directly boosted the public purse by a sum ranging from £1 million ($1.24 million) to £6.6 million, it showed.
"Too often, providing survivors with sufficient support to allow for recovery and reintegration is presented as a benefit for survivors, but a cost for society," said Katarina Schwarz of Nottingham University's Rights Lab, a slavery research platform.
A proposed law that would ensure survivors receive help for a year while deciding whether to apply to remain indefinitely or accept help to go home was put forward by parliament's unelected upper chamber in 2017, but is now in limbo in the lower house.
Several activists told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they believe the government fears allowing slavery victims to remain for a year because this could attract more migrants to Britain and hinder its efforts to reduce immigration.
"Of course the benefits of providing victims with support go far beyond the financial," Ian McColl, a British lord who put forward the bill, said in a foreword to the Rights Lab research.
"But it is significant to see the degree to which supporting victims on a pathway to recovery for a longer but limited period of time, can in fact result in savings and financial benefits."
The current 45 day limit of so-called "move-on support" for recognised victims of slavery was challenged in court this month, and the Home Office (interior ministry) has committed to providing unlimited support based on each individual's needs.
Britain has described itself as a world leader in the anti-slavery drive, but is considering the findings of a government-ordered review of its landmark 2015 Modern Slavery Act amid criticism it was not being used fully to tackle the crime.
About 7,000 suspected victims were uncovered in Britain last year, up a third on 2017, according to data that activists say raises concerns about the government's ability to support them.
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(Reporting by Kieran Guilbert. Editing by Katy Migiro. 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)