The U.K.’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman has repeatedly come under fire for making baseless claims about modern slavery victims “gaming the system”.
Most recently, the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, warned MPs that these false claims will have a potentially devastating impact on trafficking victims.
Support for victims dangerously undermined
The Home Secretary has claimed that the U.K.’s modern slavery laws are being abused, claims that are not supported by statistics. Thornton told MPs this week that Braverman had “greatly exaggerated” the number of Albanian nationals arriving on small boats to the U.K. claiming to be victims of modern slavery.
Sara Thornton, who stepped down from the role in April 2022, told the committee that the Home Office has “not been forthcoming” when asked for evidence to back up Braverman’s incendiary claims.
A dangerous precedent is being set. Braverman’s repetition of false claims seeks to sow mistrust of victims and justify harmful legislation that undermines the modern slavery protection system.
The Refugee Ban Bill, officially titled the Illegal Migration Bill, currently making its way through Parliament is an example of this. Under this proposed legislation, trafficking victims would be denied support if they reach the U.K. through irregular means – even if they were forced.
Thornton commented on Braverman’s misrepresentation of data:
“The first argument is that – and the home secretary used this at the second reading [of the Illegal Migration Bill] – the fact that there were 3,500 referrals a year back in 2015, and now there are 17,000, must mean that the protections are being abused.”
“I think there are three weaknesses there. The first is: you get referred into the [system]. You don’t make a claim. Secondly, there’s been a huge amount of effort in trying to train first responders so they know what to look for. And lastly… the positive decision rate… was 91% in 2022.”
No longer world leader
Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery commented that the government’s current approach to migration is deprioritizing the protection of trafficking victims’ rights, making it difficult for the UK to continue to consider itself a world leader in the fight against modern slavery.
The fact that the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s post remains vacant a year after Thornton finished her term in the role casts further doubt on the government’s commitment to strengthening protections for victims.