Coronavirus has drastically changed the way we live, work and interact like never before. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief how far many of us rely on each other to get through times of hardship. Some of us are privileged enough to be able to stay at home and isolate if need be, so as to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We have a safety net of support to fall back on, with family and friends still in touch – albeit over Zoom, Hangouts and the many other video conferencing tools we’ve all suddenly had to become adept with.
Sadly, there are too many of us who do not have access to the support of trusted loved ones. For victims and survivors of modern slavery in the UK, these are unsettling and frightening times. A rapidly changing public health crisis has led to fundamental changes in the way that support can be delivered to those who are vulnerable and who may have complex trauma and health needs.
Dedicated and tenacious professionals supporting victims and survivors have spoken of their concerns about the ways social distancing and resource constraints could undermine their ability to provide vital support. They are also worried about the safety of their staff especially where there is a lack of personal protective equipment to protect the wellbeing of themselves and their clients.
Charities have had to furlough some of their staff in order to continue providing frontline services. In this difficult time, I have been blown away by their commitment to continue providing support – with counselling and legal advice provided remotely, and food parcels and even activity packs being delivered. Daily phone calls to check up on clients and occasional doorstep visits – always with two metres’ distance being observed – have been an essential lifeline to alleviate loneliness and anxiety.
The nature of exploitation is also changing in light of the pandemic, and criminals seeking to profit from the most vulnerable are finding new ways to do so. It is absolutely essential that we continue to disrupt exploitation and provide immediate support to all who need it.
Support providers and the government are trying to keep pace with the rapid changes to the way support is provided. Guidance has been published and conversations are taking place between the sector, my office and the Home Office. But more needs to be done. PPE must be rolled out where it is required to uphold the safety of all. Cash cards must be distributed swiftly instead of the normal cash subsistence payments.
But despite these challenges, I want to reassure anyone who is concerned that they may be in a situation of exploitation that there is help out there. If you are in immediate danger, please call the police on 999. If you don’t want to call the police or you want advice, please call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. Do not suffer in silence.
My office is still running, although my team and I are working from home. Due to social distancing we are holding meetings and conferences over the phone or online. We remain contactable through the usual channels and we are here to listen to any concerns and to provide practical support where we can.