I am coming to the end of my first month as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner for the United Kingdom. I have met many people who are involved in tackling slavery and trafficking and supporting victims and I have been listening and learning. I have been struck by the commitment, energy and enthusiasm of those that I have met and their willingness to share their experiences and perspectives. I am keenly aware of how much needs to be done and the scale of the challenges. Over the next few months I will be developing my strategic priorities for the first year so that we can focus effort to make impact. The role had been vacant for nearly twelve months and the small team carries vacancies, so I have also spent time mobilising the office and recruiting staff. We have made some temporary appointments and have advertised for permanent staff which met with a fantastic response.
Earlier this week I visited a safe house for women who have been trafficked and met five women from very different parts of the world who had been referred to the National Referral Mechanism for victims. They had all been assessed as potential victims and were waiting for a final decision. Several had been waiting for over 12 months and while they were safe from their traffickers it was clear that their lives were on hold. I have arranged to visit other houses over the next few months to learn more about how well we are looking after the most vulnerable of victims. I particularly want to understand how we can improve longer term outcomes for victims and how we can protect them from the risk of being re-trafficked.
During my first month the Independent Review of the Modern Slavery Act final report was published, and we await the response from Government. The report focused on ensuring that supply chains are free from slavery, the role of independent child trafficking advocates (ICTAs), legal issues and my own role. There were many detailed recommendations that I will look to address. In particular, the review suggested that I work with the Children’s Commissioner for England to scrutinise the ICTAs. I have met with Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner and have agreed that we will work together to look at the effectiveness of the advocates who are currently working with children in the pilot areas. It is so important that children who have been trafficked have powerful advocates who are able to ensure that they have all the support that they need as they recover from the trauma they have suffered. There are several recommendations about my office taking on new tasks and responsibilities. I am keen to take these on and am working with the Home Office to set out the business case for additional resources in order to support additional tasks.
My role covers the whole of the UK and I am looking forward to working with the devolved administrations. I attended a review by the Scottish Government and its many partners of their progress in tackling trafficking. I was really encouraged to see a clear plan to ensure that people and businesses are aware of how what they do and buy can contribute to this serious crime. As a former police officer I am utterly convinced that prevention and tackling demand is key to fighting crime. I want to work out how I can best use my new office to help to change the mindset on what we should demand from businesses and government as consumers and citizens. While in Edinburgh I also met with the Director of the Judicial Institute and we have agreed to assist with the important work that they are doing to train the sheriffs in Scotland. I plan to visit Northern Ireland and Wales in the coming months and welcome the opportunity to work with colleagues across the UK.