The award winning charity Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU), which is leading the fight against modern slavery, announced today that it is setting up a separate law firm, Saltworks, to raise the money it needs to provide effective support to victims; with all profits being ploughed back into the charity.
Announcing the launch of Saltworks, Victoria Marks, one of ATLEU’s founders said:
'The legal aid system depends on lawyers working with victims for free. Legal aid rates are now so low that firms cannot afford to do this. This makes it even harder for victims to overcome the many barriers to justice that the system puts up. The government is simply failing those who are victims of what the Prime Minister has stated is 'the greatest human rights issue of our time".
ATLEU has written today to the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Justice Secretary asking them to work together to reduce these barriers and hurdles and act to give victims the support they deserve. The government, they say, otherwise will fail in its aim of being the global leader in combating the horror of human trafficking and modern slavery.
Increasing numbers of victims of trafficking appear each year in the UK, with the Home Office estimating that there may be as many as 13,000 people held in slavery in the UK. At the same time, the number of lawyers able to support these victims has reduced significantly, primarily as a result of cuts to legal aid funding but also because it is so difficult to get funding to help victims.
In one case, ATLEU invested £6000 of staff time to ensure a woman held in servitude for over eight years, illiterate and speaking no English, received legal representation, after the Legal Aid Agency argued she could represent herself.
In another case, it took over four years unpaid for ATLEU to secure legal aid for a client to pursue a compensation claim after he helped ensure his traffickers were imprisoned. This was after he had worked 60 hours for £10 a week and a packet of tobacco and faced threats of violence. Other clients who were victims of the same traffickers simply gave up the fight, with one now sleeping rough and distrusting the state completely. He said:
'I helped the police put my traffickers in prison even though I was scared. I didn’t want anyone else to end up like me. Why won’t the government help me get compensation? I wish they had beaten me up as at least physical wounds heal. I will never forget what has happened to me but fighting the government to get legal aid is making me feel even worse. I am half the man I used to be.'
Victoria Marks, concludes:
'We simply can’t survive as a charity incurring these huge costs without finding new ways of funding this essential work. Many of our test cases would simply not have been brought, let alone won, without our persistence. But we can’t survive on that alone. Despite commitment in words, the government simply doesn’t support the real cost of the help victims of these awful crimes need to get their lives back.'