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Call for research: identification of survivors

Call for responsive research proposals: improving the identification of adults who have lived experience of modern slavery in the UK.

Published: 30th September 2021

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (the Modern Slavery PEC) has issued a targeted call for proposals on a research project on improving the identification of adults who have lived experience of modern slavery in the UK.

Improving survivor recovery and support and understanding longer-term outcomes are priority research areas for the Modern Slavery PEC. Improving evidence on this issue is a priority for multiple stakeholder groups working to address modern slavery. Through an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) open call process, the Modern Slavery PEC has recently funded five research projects on this area which are all exploring longer term outcomes for people with lived experience of modern slavery.

The PEC is seeking to complement these existing projects through calls for additional research to fill other priority evidence gaps on the theme of survivor recovery.

‘First Responders’ are members of organisations authorised to refer people with lived experience of modern slavery into the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the framework established for identifying ‘potential victims’ of modern slavery and providing support. There is a wide range of statutory and non-governmental First Responder Organisations, including local authorities, the police and immigration officers, with different cohorts of organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland compared to England and Wales. In 2020 the Home Office published an online modern slavery training module for First Responders with the aim of providing them with a consistent level of knowledge to effectively identify and refer adult ‘potential victims of slavery’ to the NRM and a child-specific module followed in June 2021. The government’s New Immigration Plan announced in March 2021 noted an ambition to strengthen the support given to First Responders working across the immigration system, to ‘reinforce their understanding of the indicators of modern slavery whilst also ensuring they are able to assess and raise any concerns about credibility’.

Referrals to the NRM for adults are voluntary and require informed consent. In cases where adults do not give consent for a referral, or where there is missing information, First Responders in England and Wales have a statutory ‘Duty to Notify’ the Home Office (Single Competent Authority) when encountering a ‘potential victim’ of modern slavery through an anonymous system. For all cases, a Modern Slavery Act crime should be recorded for each ‘potential victim’.

Non-referral of a significant proportion of ‘potential victims’ has long been seen as an issue, with the number of Duty to Notify referrals increasing in recent years. Whilst there are concerns about interpreting the data due to complexities in the way it is collected, a rise in Duty to Notify referrals may suggest increased awareness and visibility of exploitation types and an increase in the scale of those experiencing modern slavery. Increased Duty to Notify referrals may also indicate a growing number of individuals with lived experience opting not to enter the NRM.

The Home Office publishes high-level statistics about Duty to Notify referrals, however, no research exists on people with lived experience of trafficking deciding not to give consent to be entered into the NRM or their journeys following this decision. Existing research points to the lack of legal advice prior to entering the NRM and concerns around the quality of First Responder referrals. There is a lack of evidence about how services can most effectively identify people with lived experience of modern slavery, make quality referrals, and engage with people at the point of identification to encourage access to support, or how this has been affected by remote working necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The outputs from this research project will contribute to the evidence base on why people with lived experience of modern slavery decide not to give consent to be entered into the NRM. The Modern Slavery PEC will use the findings to influence ongoing policy and operational considerations about how to improve identification and support through the NRM Transformation Programme, as well as how to improve training for First Responders, as announced in the government’s New Immigration Plan. The current version of the Nationality and Borders Bill, as introduced in July 2021, outlines provisions seeking to ensure that victims of modern slavery are identified as quickly as possible at the ‘front end’ of the system. The research project will contribute to the evidence base on the potential impact of these measures, in a context where people with lived experience of modern slavery may feel more hesitant to engage.

About the call

This call is part of the Modern Slavery PEC Responsive Research mechanism that has been created to fund responsive and agile research projects. It is led directly by the PEC, but is funded and actively supported by the Arts and Humanities Council (AHRC).

The aim of this research project will be to identify promising practice to improve the identification of adults with lived experience modern slavery in the UK and the quality of referrals into the NRM and to explore the reasons behind a decision to not give consent to enter the UK NRM.

The scope of the research is limited to adults with lived experience of modern slavery in the UK. Exploring the journeys of people who opt not to enter the NRM and the impact this has on recovery and outcomes is out of scope, as is exploring why people opt to leave the NRM.

The objectives are to:

  • Assess types of training, and evaluations of training, for main categories of First Responders, and develop a methodology to generate evidence that can inform recommendations for how they can effectively identify people who have experienced modern slavery and improve the quality of referrals into the NRM. This may involve working with First Responders to pilot a systematic assessment of effectiveness of training
  • Explore why adults with lived experience of modern slavery decide not to give consent to enter the NRM
  • Explore patterns according to the characteristics of individuals; exploitation type, organisation of First Responder and location
  • Explore nature and causal explanations for changes in number of Duty to Notify referrals

In accordance with the Modern Slavery PEC’s strategic objective of facilitating collaboration, successful teams will work in collaboration with the Modern Slavery PEC throughout the project to ensure alignment with our objectives and to maximise impact. This will include developing the research methodology and developing outputs such as the full report and summary briefing, as well as their dissemination.

The Modern Slavery PEC has allocated a maximum budget of £80,000 at 100% full economic cost (FEC) for this project. We expect to fund one project for this work. The project must be led by a UK higher education institution or approved research organisation eligible to receive UKRI funding, and it must be carried out in collaboration with at least one UK based third sector organisation. Please note, this funding will be dependent on the successful organisation putting a data sharing agreement in place with the Home Office.

You can find the full details and specification of the call in the application pack below.

Application process

The applications to this call must be made through our online form.

All applications will be reviewed by an assessment panel convened by the Modern Slavery PEC that will include external independent reviewers.

The deadline for applications is 4pm 5 November 2021.

The decision on the award of the funding will be made by the week beginning 6 December 2021. This funding will be dependent on the host organising putting a data sharing agreement in place, with the project due to start by 1 April 2022, and final outputs to be delivered by 1 October 2022.

Call Webinar & FAQ

We will hold a webinar for prospective applicants to provide them with the opportunity to hear more about the Modern Slavery PEC and its strategic objectives and principles, offer an overview of the call, and give more information on how the successful bid team will collaborate with the Modern Slavery PEC during the research. The webinar will take place on 12 October 2021 at 1pm (UK time). This webinar will be run in conjunction with the calls on legal advice and distributed technologies.