Lucy Maule is a Policy Researcher at the Centre for Social Justice.
Through its current investigation into slavery and human trafficking, the Centre for Social Justice keeps a keen eye on the daily headlines for any mention of the enslavement and exploitation of individuals. So when our email alerts were filled with references to slavery on last Tuesday morning, we thought we must have missed something big. How very wrong this was. The High Court ruling that rejected claims that two individuals – Cait Reilly and Jamieson Wilson – had been subjected to "modern slavery" and "forced labour" by being required to complete work experience in retail outlets as part of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) work placement programme is both refreshing in that it was rejected, and depressing that it reached the High Court in the first place.
The reality is that forced labour does indeed take place in Britain, but not as Cait and Jamieson understand it. The CSJ has travelled all over the country to meet individuals who have been trafficked into the most horrendous forms of abuse, exploitation and slavery in Britain and hear from those who are doing their best, with limited resources, to support and rehabilitate these true victims of the slave trade that still blights our society. These faceless, voiceless people are the real victims of slavery in Britain. The CSJ is committed to reviewing the response to this problem, and is investigating the role of the police, the Government, the public, and the voluntary and business sectors in tackling this current tragedy.
The DWP’s Work Programme encourages the jobless to take part in skill-building, aiming to prepare individuals to re-enter the world of work fully equipped to take on all that it entails. According to the DWP, this scheme has already increased the chances of finding paid work by 16 per cent. To imagine that this is forced labour or slavery is to grossly misrepresent the meaning of the phrases.