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Braverman’s false claims mean trafficking victims ‘won’t get help’

Government’s former anti-slavery commissioner tells MPs home secretary has made it harder for victims to come forward

Adam Bychawski
19 April 2023, 2.24pm

Braverman "greatly exaggerated" claims about modern slavery system being abused.


Anadolu Agency / Contributor

Trafficking victims “won’t come forward” because of Suella Braverman’s false claims about people gaming the system, the government’s own former anti-slavery commissioner told MPs today.

The Home Affairs Select Committee heard how the home secretary’s allegations that laws designed to protect victims of slavery are being abused are creating a “chilling effect on survivors and victims”.

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.

The government’s proposed Illegal Migration Bill would disqualify people who arrive in the UK ‘irregularly’, including by crossing the Channel on small boats, from being able to seek protection from modern slavery. 

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Braverman sought to justify the move in March by claiming that “our modern slavery laws are being abused”. But Thornton told MPs that she had used “statistics… in quite a questionable way”.

“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.”

The former anti-slavery commissioner said that Braverman had also “greatly exaggerated” when she claimed in October 2022 that 80% of Albanian people arriving in the UK on small boats were claiming to be victims of modern slavery, when the figure was in fact 12% in 2022. 

The Home Office has already been warned once by the Office for Statistics Regulation over its use of migration data. The watchdog told Braverman’s department in December that it risked misleading people after it could not provide evidence to substantiate previous, similar remarks by the home secretary.

MPs on Wednesday’s committee were also told that the Illegal Migration Bill and the Nationality and Borders Act, which passed last year, had “destabilised” the modern slavery system.

“Now nobody in the world would think that we were a leader [on tackling modern slavery] because what we are doing is putting the issue of the migrants coming by boats ahead… of the victims of modern slavery,” said Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery.

The Home Office also faced criticism for still having not appointed a new independent anti-slavery commissioner, a year after Thornton ended her three-year term.

“When I left in April 2022, I was told that there were two or three candidates who were going forward to the home secretary, and then heard nothing until the role was readvertised about six weeks ago,” she told MPs.

Butler-Sloss said that the failure to appoint a replacement was proof there was a conflict of interest in allowing the Home Office to manage the watchdog.

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