In October 2017, the UK Government announced that the allowance paid to trafficked people will be lowered from £65 per week for adults to equal the allowance received by asylum seekers. Last week the Government confirmed that trafficked people seeking asylum will have their allowance reduced. The struggles asylum seekers face to survive on as little as £37.75 a week are well known. On less than £40 a week, asylum seekers and trafficked people must now cover the cost of their food, toiletries, transport, communications, non-prescription medication and other essentials. By lowering their allowance, the Government is endangering the Prime Minister’s stated commitment to fight modern slavery by putting trafficked people at serious risk of re-trafficking, just to survive. Survivors living in poverty are extremely vulnerable to being exploited as they are forced to look for other ways to make enough money to survive.
Re-trafficking is a real risk for many, particularly if the alternative is destitution, trafficked people may see no other possibility than returning to their traffickers. Research by FLEX and the Labour Exploitation Advisory Group (LEAG), a group of experts working directly with victims of labour exploitation, has shown poverty to be a major driver of exploitation. Trafficked people who are struggling to survive on the £37.75 allowance but are not permitted and supported to take up regular employment are more likely to take up informal work. Unscrupulous employers who know that workers are reliant upon them to survive can take advantage of this situation and exploit vulnerable employees.
As shown in FLEX’s research and short film, modern slavery occurs on a spectrum and can happen when other forms of abuse in the workplace are not detected or tackled. One such form of abuse is pay below the minimum wage, which leaves workers dependent on the low salary they are receiving and forces them to stay with their employer for fear of losing their job and the little money they have to survive. In-work poverty as a result of employers failing to pay the minimum wage is particularly common in some sectors; for example, an independent expert review described the problem as ‘rife’ in the care industry. Low pay is a particular concern when combined with other risk factors, such as homelessness and fear of deportation. In FLEX’s recent report, Risky Business, we discuss such risk indicators in further detail.
To support trafficked people in their recovery and to ensure that they do not fall back into the hands of unscrupulous employers, the UK Government should reverse its decision to lower their allowances. Instead, it should recognise poverty as a driver of modern slavery and increase the allowance received by asylum seekers to level up to that received by trafficked people. In so doing, the Government would show a real commitment to preventing modern slavery and to ensuring trafficked people are not forced into exploitation again and again.