Modern Slavery
Research and collaboration

Long-term support for survivors of modern slavery is ‘essential’ university research project proves.

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A new  report praised by former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton has revealed the vital role that post government support plays in the outcomes for modern slavery survivors - in some cases literally saving their lives.

The research, described by Dame Sara as ‘innovative and effective,’ was undertaken by the University of Liverpool in conjunction with Causeway, and focused on our LifeLine programme which offers a ‘safety net’ for survivors once they leave government funded support.

Our LifeLine staff support hundreds of survivors each month with regular phone calls and drop-in sessions, which allows them to feel less isolated, ask questions on UK bureaucracy, and for any problems people are having such as mental health issues, debt or homelessness to be addressed before they get out of hand.

The government support system, known as the NRM (National Referral Mechanism), currently guarantees survivors of modern slavery 45 days of support once they have been given a Positive Conclusive Grounds decision on their victim status. However, prior to Causeway’s LifeLine programme, survivors were moved on once this support window ended and not contacted again. This left them vulnerable to homelessness, mental health crisis, addiction, or in some cases re-trafficking.

The purpose of the research into the success of LifeLine is to encourage policy makers and other survivor organisations to commit resources into post NRM support and improve outcomes for people who have experienced abuses such as forced labour, forced sex work, grooming by criminal gangs, domestic servitude and debt bondage in the UK.

Phill Clayton, Head of Research and Development at Causeway, remembers the event that triggered the creation of LifeLine:

“I was managing a safe house in 2011, working alongside five survivors of labour exploitation," he said.

“After the government’s support came to an end we had to abruptly move them on before they had fully recovered. The next day the men came back, knocking on the door and window desperate for our help.

"It was heart breaking.”

Professor Alex Balch from the Department of Politics, and Alexandra Williams-Woods from the Management School at the University of Liverpool, conducted the independent analysis of Causeway’s LifeLine programme, which was co-designed with a group of modern slavery survivors to find out how the service was working on the ground, and to develop recommendations.

He said: “Our study has found that Causeway’s LifeLine is an essential service which prevents survivors of modern slavery from falling through the cracks once government support through the NRM has ended. This support is crucial given that there are increasing numbers of people who have been identified as having experienced modern slavery.

“Although the government has claimed that its law on modern slavery is ‘world-leading,’ our research found that without additional support offered by LifeLine, many survivors would struggle to navigate the system.”

The report heard from one survivor that the safety-net offered by LifeLine potentially stopped her from committing suicide.

She said: “I was thinking of dying, but the drop-ins were very helpful. It is helpful to meet people who have gone through the same thing. That was my darkest moment and Causeway were there.”

The report found that the main things survivors sought support for were issues around mental health and well-being, legal advice, recovery from their experiences, and advice on how things work eg, how to make a doctor’s appointment.

LifeLine staff empower survivors to act independently and will usually advise them how to do something, rather than do it for them, as this encourages independence and confidence.

“We try to remind them to believe in themselves. We are saying ‘give it a go,’ and if it doesn’t work out we’ll be here to help you through it,” said one LifeLine advocate.

Dame Sara Thornton, who is an honorary professor in modern slavery at the University of Liverpool, said: “I welcome both this important initiative to provide long term support for survivors and the fact that the University of Liverpool has undertaken an independent evaluation.

“During my three year term as the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner I frequently raised concerns about insufficient focus on the longer term outcomes for survivors. There often seemed to be a focus on rescue but less attention on the assistance needed to live a sustainably independent life.

“We should be supporting survivors with accommodation and accessing education and work because it is the right thing to do, but also because it protects them from future harm. It is therefore powerful preventative work.

“LifeLine is an innovative and effective response to the significant challenges faced by survivors.”

Dame Sara Thornton’s three-year-tenure as the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner ended in April 2022, and so far she has not been replaced, despite it being a legal requirement of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

She added: “Given the political focus on protections for modern slavery and their alleged abuse, it is vital that a new commissioner is appointed that can provide independent, evidence based perspectives to the debate.”

Read the report here: