The Government might have U-turned on slashing support for trafficking victims, but that simply isn’t enough

A recent article in The Independent has highlighted how the Government has been forced to make a U-turn after unlawfully slashing support for trafficking survivors during the Covid-19 pandemic. While of course it is welcome news that these survivors will continue to receive vital funding and support, it is alarming that the Government saw it necessary to cut the support in the first place.

As recently as July, a report by Justice & Care and the Centre for Social Justice  found out that trafficking – and specifically trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation – has been increasing year-on-year in the UK, and the Government have consistently failed to get to grips with a growing problem that is right on their doorstep. Why they saw fit to then remove support for trafficking victims at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has left the most vulnerable in society teetering on the edge of destitution, for example those involved in prostitution, is beyond comprehension.

In one case, a Kenyan woman – believed to have been trafficked to the UK and held in a brothel where she was forced to have sex daily – was unable to access essential toiletries, including sanitary pads and toothpaste, and top-up for her phone in order to contact her support worker and lawyers.

The efforts of campaigners and lawyers in achieving a reversal of the Government’s decision should not go unnoticed, but this is by no means the end of the battle. While the Government have reinstated payments to support victims of trafficking, they have reduced the amount from £35 per week to £25. As lawyer Silvia Nicolaou Garcia, from Simpson Millar Solicitors, pointed out, this funding cut is ‘cruel and inhumane’.

Trafficking victims are often subjected to all manner of degrading and exploitative treatment, with many being trafficked directly into “pop-up brothels” with no means of escaping or supporting themselves financially. The only way to help these women is to offer long-term support and exit routes out of destitution while other authorities – namely the police and the CPS – undertake the relevant investigations and prosecutions.

This is a broader failure of the Government, extending beyond the immediate impact of Covid-19. Particularly in light of a punitive immigration system that often leaves women who have been trafficked into prostitution in a “worst of both worlds” scenario where if they do not claim asylum immediately – although more accurately this is because they cannot –they are likely to be refused. As one story highlights:

Yuan C. is a Chinese woman who said she was beaten and abused by her husband who also stole her passport and threatened to report her to the police because she is a Falun Gong follower. She was found in a brothel in the UK. Because she did not immediately report to UKBA (because, she alleges, she was forced to work as a prostitute) she was told in her refusal letter: “It is considered that your application is an exaggerated, opportunistic application.”

This is a hostile environment for those who most need our help and support. CEASE UK is calling on the Government to immediately reverse their funding cuts to victims of trafficking, while ensuring that punitive immigration measures are no longer enforced against those who cannot immediately apply for asylum, almost always due to factors such as coercion and force preventing them from doing so. In the 21st Century, Britain needs to lead by example. At the moment, the cure of the UK asylum process is often no better than the disease of exploitation. This needs to change.