There are an estimated 136,000 people living on conditions of modern slavery in the United Kingdom (GSI 2018). According to the 2017 annual figures provided by the National Crime Agency, 5, 145 potential victims of modern slavery were referred through the National Referral Mechanism in 2017, of whom 2,454 were female, 2688 were male and 3 were transgender, with 41% of all referrals being children at the time of exploitation. People are subjected to slavery in the UK in the form of domestic servitude, labour exploitation, organ harvesting and sexual exploitation, with the largest number of potential victims originating from Albania, China, Vietnam and Nigeria. This data however does not consider the unknown numbers of victims that are not reported.
“Mary” came to the UK with an overseas domestic worker visa. Her passport was taken by her employer. She escaped after 12 weeks. By the time she entered the National Referral Mechanism (NRM)—the UK’s framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support—her visa had expired and she did not have the right to work. Domestic servitude accounted for 7% of the reported exploitation type of potential victims referred to the NRM in 2018, and 9% of the total potential victims indicated by contacts to the Modern Slavery Helpline in 2018.
The narrative is from her oral evidence to the Home Affairs Committee’s Modern Slavery Inquiry on November 6, 2018, in a private closed-door session with three MPs. Her name has been changed and identifying details have been redacted, including her home country, the year she came to the UK, and the name of a charity.
My employer brought me here. I ran away after 12 weeks. I came here with a private household visa. But when I came here, my salary was—there was two months when they didn’t pay me. I was not properly fed; if they had no leftover food, I had nothing to eat for the following day. And then I was physically hit.
Then I ran away, because I was so scared for my life, because they threatened me already. I was so scared to go back with them, so I ran away and I tried to seek help. Then I met the charity and from there, they started to help me. They referred me to another charity and they started to process my papers.
I received a positive reasonable grounds and I was under the National Referral Mechanism. But I did not have the right to work. So, as a mother—I have children—I’m a single mum. I am the breadwinner of the family. Working overseas is our family’s bread and butter. I was supporting a sibling. So all my family is really depending on me.
Being in the system is really quite hard. It is not much different from working with abusive employers. I am free to go out. I don’t need to fear that the police or immigration will chase me or deport me because I am in the NRM. But what will my life be? If I can only have the support coming from the Hestia award of £35 a week, that’s only £5 a day. How can I budget with £5 a day—for my transport, for my food, thinking of my children back home with £35 a week? If I gave you £5 and told you, “Budget it for yourself,” can you budget it for yourself?
I don’t think the NRM is really applicable for domestic workers because we are workers; we are fit to work. We came here with a private household visa and then all of a sudden, we are in the system. We seek help and at least we feel that our struggle will be finished. We are still in this situation that we really struggle a lot. It is not me; it is not helpful for domestic workers.
There is not much support, like psychologists. It’s hard. For most of us, there are no psychologists. We can’t go to a GP, even if we are registered with Doctors of the World. We go to a GP, we present the letter from Doctors of the World and they will not register us. It is not enough. They will ask for this paper and that paper. How can we get those documents to present to them?
With the help of the charity, if not with this community, even if I am in the system, I might get suicidal since they started on my papers. Sometimes I was just thinking “Why did I sort out my papers? Why can I not just work?”
I am waiting for the conclusive grounds. It has been two years. I am in the system for two years without the right to work. If they give me negative decision, they will send me back home. What will happen to me? I did not have a right to work. I did not even save for my children. If they give me positive conclusive grounds, do you think within two years I could be stable? Do you think? Within two years? I was just saying, I don’t think NRM is really for us domestic workers. We are workers; we can work. This is what I want: just for us to be allowed to work, just like any other workers.
Last time, when I spoke with the modern slavery unit in the Home Office, I asked them. According to their letters, it’s only a minimum of 45 days. I have already been in the system for more than a year. Until when will I wait? I can’t tell my children “Stop schooling first. Let’s wait for the final decision. Don’t eat first.” Be in my situation. That is why I am always challenging everyone. Be in my shoes, so that you can feel and you can see how I struggle.
My children are studying, but it is so hard for me because I am sending the money I get from Hestia to my children—£35 a week—and I depend on the help of this community and the help of other friends. I have been in that situation for two years…. But I cannot live just with the help of community and the help of friends, because the reason I went overseas was to work, earn and support my family, not to be a dependant of any kind or to accept any support from any country or from any friends.
If I go back, I will apply for overseas work again and my experience might happen to me again. Our country is a poor country. In our country, we have age discrimination. You can only get a good job if you are newly graduated and until you are 27 or 28. If your age is 30, 40, you’d better find it in other countries, you’d better go abroad. There is no job for you. That is our situation.
For me, once a domestic worker enters the NRM, it is quite strange for me because our perpetrators, the employers who brought us here, can still go back and forth from the country. They are not banned. I see that the Government are still tolerating them although they already have the record that I worked for that employer. They are in the system, but there is no investigation.
As recorded in HC 1460 Oral Evidence, contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.