· One in four (23%) modern slavery survivors are educated to university graduate level or above

· Allowing all adults to work while they wait for a conclusive decision about their survivor status could generate a net economic benefit to society of £10m to £41m per year

· Leading modern slavery charity Hestia calls for Government to grant all survivors entering the National Referral Mechanism the right to apply for a temporary right to work

Survivors of modern slavery could be contributing to the UK economy and helping to address skills shortages, but instead are being held back by bureaucratic red tape, according to a new report by the charity Hestia.

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In its latest Underground Lives report, Hestia surveyed 228 modern slavery survivors and found that almost all (96%) wanted to work, but many were prevented from doing so. One in four (23%) were educated to university graduate level or above, and half had experience of paid work including in industries currently facing acute labour shortages such as health and social work, accommodation and food services, and construction.

Under the current system, survivors are placed into the Government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – a framework to identify potential victims of modern slavery. However, backlogs and delays have increased to the point at which more than one third of those who have been supported by Hestia had to wait in the system for more than three years for a decision.

Allowing survivors to work during this painful waiting time would not only benefit them and their employers, but also the economy as a whole. The Underground Lives report includes a summary of independent analysis conducted by Pro Bono Economics. Pro Bono Economics estimates that extending the right to work to all potential adult survivors of modern slavery while they wait in the NRM could generate net benefits to society of £10m to £41m per year.

Hestia is the leading provider of modern slavery support in London and the Southeast, supporting 2,600 survivors in 2021. The charity has been supporting survivors for over a decade – both in safe houses and in the community.

Patrick Ryan, Chief Executive of Hestia, said:

“The UK is facing an employment crisis, and yet we have a group of thousands of willing individuals who are desperate to work and are prevented from doing so for years. Our research and experience has shown that there is enormous talent and potential to be unlocked, if only survivors are given a chance. That’s why we are urging the UK government to give survivors stuck in the NRM the opportunity to apply to work, benefitting employers and wider society alike.”

Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chair of Pro Bono Economics, said:

For the thousands of individuals stuck waiting for a decision in the National Referral Mechanism, the uncertainty and confusion can compound the impact of the trauma they have already suffered. Allowing these people to work while they are in the NRM could generate enormous benefits to their wellbeing, alongside the vital support they receive from social sector organisations like Hestia. This new research from PBE shows that extending the right to work to all potential survivors of modern slavery could also deliver millions of pounds in economic benefits for survivors themselves and wider society.

One of the survivors featured in the exhibition said:

“I want to give back to England; I want to work, pay taxes and contribute to society. There is so much turmoil in the world and I want to be part of the solution”

The report also recommends that the Government should collaborate with survivors, the modern slavery sector and with businesses to develop a safe package of employment support for all survivors in the NRM, including support with learning English, volunteering opportunities, the right to engage in paid work experience placements, paid apprenticeships and transitional support into paid employment.

An employer who was interviewed for the report remarked:

“We currently have more job vacancies in the country than we have unemployed people. The idea that we are stopping people from working who want to work and to build a life seems to me to be absolutely bizarre. It’s such a waste of human capital, such a waste of talent.”