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Subsistence cuts for Victims of Trafficking

29 October 2018

Shu Shin Luh

Counsel in the case is Shu Shin Luh from the Garden Court Chambers Public Law team, led by Nathalie Lieven QC at Blackstone Chambers. Nusrat Uddin from the Wilsons Public Law team is the conducting solicitor.

Two victims of trafficking, M and K are challenging the Home Office’s decision to cut weekly support monies paid to asylum seeking victims of trafficking by over 40%. A full hearing on the lawfulness of the Home Office’s decision will take place on 30 and 31 October 2018.

K is a vulnerable woman who was sex trafficked to the UK. She has depression and PTSD and was heavily reliant on support groups to maintain mental stability. She was also assisted to access mentoring and vocational training to support her to build a more positive future will skills that would mitigate risks of re-exploitation. After leaving her safe house, she was placed on the outskirts of greater London which made it more difficult for her to access the support network she had established over many months with the support of her safe house. When her weekly subsistence was cut from £65 to £37.75 per week, she could no longer afford to travel to and from her support groups and training programmes. This has been destabilising for her recovery as a victim as she has become socially isolated.

M contracted HIV as a result of prolonged sexual exploitation. She suffers from PTSD and depression. She has to take anti-retroviral medication which side effects requires the maintenance of a strict nutritious diet. She was also heavily reliant on informal and formal support groups which were to be key stepping stones to more formal treatment, which she is not yet in a position to commence. The cuts have forced her into a position of having to choose between meeting her dietary needs and accessing therapeutic support for her recovery. The deterioration in her physical health has meant she has had to stop attending therapeutic support groups because she could not afford the cost of transport to access these groups necessary for her recovery.

At an interim relief hearing on 4 October 2018, the Home Office was ordered to reinstate M’s support in circumstances where the cut to her support had exposed her to serious risk of re-exploitation and caused a significant deterioration to her physical and mental health. The judgement was covered in a news article in the Independent.

The UK government supports victims of trafficking (VoTs) who have escaped their exploitation during what is called the recovery and reflection period. In this period the state is legally bound to provide support to aid VOTs to escape the influences of their traffickers and to positively start their process of recovery psychologically, emotionally and physically. The Home Office’s policy accepts that VOTs require enhanced support because of the particular circumstances of their experiences.

Until 1 March 2018, victims of trafficking within the recovery period were provided £65 per week in subsistence. This was reduced by over 40% to £37.75 on 1 March 2018 without any consultation and regard to the individual VOTs’ needs.

The substantive hearing on 30 and 31 October 2018 will consider the lawfulness of the Home Office’s decision. The Home Office has stated an intention to bring about across the board cuts to support monies for all victims of trafficking, not just asylum seeking victims by February 2019. This is said to be to achieve “alignment” of support levels as between VoTs and asylum seekers more generally. No equality impact assessment has been published in respect of the broader change or the current change that was implemented in March 2018.

Nusrat Uddin, who is the conducting solicitor in Wilsons Public Law team, said:

“Figures show that thousands of vulnerable victims will be affected by this change in policy, our clients are not alone. Theresa May promised in 2016 to lead the way in defeating modern slavery. However these cuts show that the Government is failing to put victim welfare at the heart of modern slavery policies, damaging victims’ recovery and putting them at risk of further exploitation.”

The case of AM is linked to be heard together with K at the substantive hearing and that claimant is represented by Simpson Millar LLP.

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