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By evicting renters, the U.K. risks increasing human trafficking

  • Published on
    September 25, 2020
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  • Category:
    Human Trafficking, Law & Policy
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In an opinion piece for Thomson Reuters Foundation, anti-slavery author Emily Kenway has argued that the U.K. government’s decision to end the temporary ban on evictions will lead to a spike in human trafficking.

Kenway, a former policy adviser to the U.K.’s first Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and author of The Truth about Modern Slavery, argues that the choice is at odds with the U.K.’s stated anti-modern slavery position.

Her view is shared by numerous campaigners and activists who previously urged the government to extend the eviction ban, to no avail.

The U.K. currently finds itself grappling with the prospect of potential new lockdowns amid rising infections, making this a particularly challenging time for renters to be evicted.

An estimated 300,000 private renters have found themselves unable to pay rent since the pandemic began, meaning the potential number of eviction attempts is vast.

Kenway points out that these extremely vulnerable circumstances risk pushing many more people into trafficking and exploitation, which have been shown to correlate with homelessness.

Emily Kenway writes for Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Prevention is one of the four principles of our national Modern Slavery Strategy. The Strategy states that the government will “use interventions to stop people being drawn into modern slavery crime”. If it’s serious about this, it would not be pushing people onto the streets in one of the worst public health and economic crises we have experienced. Unless it starts joining the dots between slavery and housing, and ensures no one loses the roof over their head in the coming months, we will fall even further behind our national ideals of tackling modern slavery.

Despite the fact that this link has been acknowledged by the government itself—which recognizes in its Rough Sleeping Strategy the  “clear potential risk of vulnerable people who are sleeping rough being trafficked”—the government has opted to tackle the problem by training frontline staff, rather than addressing the underlying issues at play.

Kenway argues that this is reflective of the U.K. government’s approach to modern slavery in general, which has seen it pursue strong action against traffickers while enforcing the kind of hostile migrant policies that put people at risk of exploitation in the first place. 

Migrants and asylum seekers are also at risk of homelessness and—because of the way the U.K. asylum process restricts their ability to work—are at an already elevated risk of modern slavery, meaning the resumed evictions pose a special threat to them.

Kenway notes that eviction notice periods have indeed been extended in some areas, but calls this “window-dressing” that covers up the many people being evicted in other regions of the country.

“The choice not to protect people’s homes” Kenway writes, “…is a choice to provoke more homelessness and therefore more modern slavery.” 


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