The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on survivors / people with lived experiences of modern slavery and human trafficking. The findings below are from the report: ‘The Benefits and the Barriers to Accessing Employment: Consideration for Survivors of Modern Slavery’ by Nottingham Rights Lab Research Fellow Kate Garbers (commissioned by the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner).

COVID-19 has Impacted:

  • Psychological health;
  • Relations with wider family and friends;
  • Financial status;
  • Ability to return to a country of origin;
  • Ability to do leisure or take enjoyment;
  • Access to work;
  • Ability to rest and care for self;
  • Physical health;
  • Sense of physical safety in accommodation;
  • Relations with immediate family (including children);
  • Access to decent working conditions;
  • Sense of stability in accommodation.

Additional Risks Include:

  • Digital poverty and exclusion;
  • Access to information about COVID-19 entitlements;
  • Discrimination towards migrant workers.

Psychological Health:

As a result of the pandemic, there are several reasons why the psychological health of survivors of exploitation have been negatively impacted:

  • There have been issues accessing mental health services;
  • Pre-existing mental health conditions may have worsened, and the lockdown has been a trigger of past traumas;
  • Concerns that safeguarding issues may have been or could be missed;
  • The uncertainties around immigration statuses act as a source of anxiety;
  • Reduced participation in education, work, volunteering, support groups and face-to-face contact has harmed mental health;
  • Testifying remotely to legal representatives or the Home Office without in-person support may be traumatic and emotionally uncomfortable for survivors.

Physical Health:

  • Overcrowded accommodation has meant self-isolation is not always possible;
  • Some survivors have been unable to self-isolate due to financial pressures and/or a lack of government financial assistance;
  • Pre-existing health conditions may be present, some of which may be connected to historic / current exploitation;
  • There have been delays in initial health screening e.g. newly arrived Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC).

Barriers to Healthcare:

Survivors of exploitation or those in exploitative conditions may be reluctant to access healthcare for COVID-19 due to:

  • Fears of deportation;
  • Language barriers;
  • Unaffordable costs;
  • Being controlled by traffickers;
  • Experiences of racism.

Financial Status:

COVID-19 has increased economic vulnerabilities. Financial areas impacted that have affected survivors of exploitation the most include:

  • The partial closures of food-banks and baby banks had increased financial pressure on survivors who would normally use these services;
  • A rise in the costs of essential items has meant that some survivors were unable to afford mobile credit or data;
  • Challenges accessing financial assistance;
  • A loss of employment, including those on zero-hour contracts.

Risks to Children:

  • Child survivors and children in exploitation have been severely impacted by the pandemic;
  • Due to school closures, lack of social contact, cancelled social events and closed youth facilities, children have had a greater presence online. This has meant that the online sexual exploitation of children has increased;
  • Perpetrators worldwide have shifted to online methods of exploitation, particularly targeting children;
  • Newley arrived Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) who were required to self-isolate in unsupervised accommodation were placed at a potential risk of being trafficked.