Loading content

Survivor support

Policy briefing on support for survivors of modern slavery based on the Modern Slavery PEC-funded research portfolio.

Published: 15th November 2023

This Policy Brief by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) synthesises findings and identifies promising practices and key evidenced-based recommendations emerging from seven research projects funded by the Centre on the theme of survivor support. The Brief also identifies ongoing evidence gaps and reflections on where next for research on survivor support.

Understanding the effectiveness of support in meeting recovery needs and longer term outcomes for survivors as well as how to improve access to justice for vulnerable groups is one of the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre’s (Modern Slavery PEC) five priority research areas. The Centre has made a significant investment in this research area, funding a portfolio of five 12-month projects through an open call for research2 to explore how the UK’s support system could be improved to ensure better outcomes for adult and child survivors of modern slavery. In addition, the PEC has funded three targeted research projects on various themes linked to adult survivor support designed to respond to particular evidence gaps, as identified by the Centre and through consultation with research users, two of which have been published.

This represented one of the deepest, wide-ranging, systematic and survivor-informed group of research projects ever commissioned on survivor support in the UK. The unique PEC model of funding meant that it included a large number of partners across various institutions and was especially innovative in different ways to be more inclusive in the conduct of research.

Key findings

1. A survivor-informed focus on outcomes can influence agendas for policies, research and interventions. Evidence shows a need for policies, research and interventions to adopt survivor-informed outcomes for ‘recovery’ that recognise the challenges and limitations of the term as well as its iterative, cyclical, non-linear, non-timebound nature and its connection to the wider context of people’s lives

  • ‘Recovery’ is a contested term, which can have the effect of defining survivors by their experience of trauma or dismissing personal experiences.
  • Across the research projects, there was diversity in how survivors described ‘recovery’.
  • ‘Recovery’ was seen by some survivors as an end goal, by others as a life-long process, or being able to make choices, plan for the future, the regaining of ordinary life and to not be defined by an experience of trafficking. Outcomes for recovery were described by some as key life aspirations
  • There is an interconnection between wellbeing and recovery with some survivors describing wellbeing as the ability to function and manage the impact of trauma on a day-to-day basis
  • Outcomes of ‘recovery’ were described as holistic, cyclical, non-linear, non-timebound and connected with the wider context of people’s lives
  • Consensus-driven participatory research with adult survivors of modern slavery identified a non-exhaustive, minimum core set of seven outcomes to be used holistically and promote inter-agency collaboration and integration to deliver interventions for adult survivor recovery and reintegration. The seven outcomes also provide a framework for policy and service design and evaluation.
  • Participatory research with young people who had experienced trafficking and had migrated to the UK identified 25 outcomes as important and meaningful to them plus 86 specific Indicators based around the four General Principles of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). These were based on what young people identified they would need to see positive changes to happen in their lives and the lives of others, now and in the future.
  • Across several projects, both adults and young people with lived experience of modern slavery described the need for physical and psychological safety as a key outcome for recovery and wellbeing needs, particularly highlighting appropriate accommodation. Young people described safety as interlinked with identity, community and autonomy and foundational to realising other recovery outcomes.

2. Evidence from these projects highlighted ways to improve the delivery of support services, including by providing holistic, long-term, trauma-informed and culturally competent interventions and developing trusted relationships between practitioners and survivors

  • Several projects highlighted that long-term support is key for ‘recovery’
  • Digital access enabling the use of services aimed to support adults’ recovery is particularly important for survivor wellbeing.
  • Projects consistently highlighted the importance of trauma-informed and culturally competent interventions and trusted relationships between practitioners and people with lived experience of modern slavery, to promote agency, safety and to reduce the potential risks of further exploitation.

3. Evidence from these projects demonstrates practical and structural barriers to more effective support for survivors of modern slavery

  • Uncertainty around survivors’ entitlements impacts on access to support, including legal aid, psychological assistance, as well as the interrelationship between specialised National Referral Mechanism (NRM) support and other statutory entitlements for British nationals, with some adult survivors entering the NRM without awareness of doing so or without providing consent.
  • Most projects identified several practical barriers to accessing entitlements such as language, geography, lack of funding, lack of resources and capacity, long waiting lists, restrictive eligibility criteria, inconsistent provision, lack of childcare and lack of travel costs
  • The research projects focusing on children discussed structural, systemic and discriminatory barriers, particularly in the immigration, asylum, criminal justice system and support in care.

4. Evidence from these projects shows that wider systems such as immigration and housing often have a negative impact on support and wellbeing for survivors

  • Procedural delays in criminal prosecutions, as well as NRM and asylum decisions negatively impact on survivors’ wellbeing and contribute to the anguish and harm of limbo.
  • Multi agency coordination and consistency of services between specialised modern slavery services and wider systems affecting survivors’ lives such as housing, mental health services, the immigration and asylum system is key to supporting identification and recovery.
  • Requirements to retell traumatic experiences of exploitation and not being believed can create additional harm, negatively impact on wellbeing.

Priority Recommendations

  • The UK Government, devolved administrations and service providers should develop mechanisms for the meaningful participation of adults and children with lived experience of modern slavery in the design, development and evaluation of policies and interventions that affect them, which are trauma-informed, prevent harm, are appropriately renumerated and non-tokenistic. In particular, this should be considered in the design of future adult survivor support models including the re-tendering of the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract for England and Wales.
  • The Home Office, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and local authorities must provide access to secure and appropriate safe accommodation for adults and children with lived experience of modern slavery in line with Slavery and Trafficking Care Standards, which as a minimum standard promotes respect, is gender-sensitive, allows for the proper investigation of complaints and has cooking and cleaning facilities. Given the issues identified with appropriate accommodation and risks of homelessness, adults with positive Reasonable Grounds decisions should be exempt from the “Local Connection” requirement for social housing and ‘priority need’ housing status should be extended to adult survivors with a positive Conclusive Grounds decision who are eligible for assistance.
  • The Home Office and local authority children’s services should work with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the NHS and local healthcare providers to provide access to appropriate mental health services for adults and children with lived experience of modern slavery in line with Slavery and Trafficking Care Standards, enabling access to activities that support mental wellbeing beyond counselling and psychotherapy, such as exercise and volunteering.
  • The UK Government and devolved administrations need to ensure that commissioned services in the new Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (and equivalent specialist services in Scotland and NI) are properly resourced to provide consistent and appropriate long-term support, taking a trauma informed approach as their starting point, to adults with lived experience of modern slavery.
  • The Home Office should improve the clarity of adults’ support entitlements in primary legislation and statutory guidance, particularly with respect to psychological assistance, wellbeing support and access to legal advice, working closely with other relevant government departments such as DHSC and Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
  • The Home Office, Department for Education and devolved administrations should address the barriers to accessing support. In particular, the Home Office should explore how childcare and transport costs for adults attending support service appointments are compensated and reimbursed through the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract and explore funding to assist adult and child survivors in meeting the costs of re-engaging with family, social support networks and faith communities.