This research is the first study of its kind looking at the transport needs of survivors of modern slavery, who are supported through the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM). It sought to provide concrete evidence of the situation regarding transport, which was anecdotally regarded as a significant challenge. The research is a multi-stakeholder initiative that brought together survivors, NGOs, academia and the private sector. The mixed methods study involved providing Oyster cards to 100 survivors and topping them up remotely with £50 every fortnight, for a period of 12 weeks. Participants answered survey questions before and after the 12-week period, and a sample took part in in-depth interviews to understand the impact that free transport had on their recovery.
At the time of the research, survivors in the NRM were entitled to get any travel over £101per return journey reimbursed if the travel was for specific purposes related to the European Convention on Anti-Trafficking (ECAT), and out of their local area. However, in practice few were able to claim for local travel because it did not reach the threshold, it was difficult to prove that the travel was for ECAT purposes or there were administrative barriers to reimbursement. For example, survivors need to register their Oyster card for their support organisation to see evidence of their travel history and make a claim for reimbursement. However, survivors cannot register the cards easily as they often do not have a smartphone, access to mobile phone data or access to WIFI.
The study found that survivors need to travel as part of their recovery but that the cost to do so far outweighs their ability to pay, given the rates of subsistence that they receive under the NRM (either £35 and £65 per week at the time of the study, plus additional allowances for children). Consequently, many cannot fully access their ECAT rights. The challenges of paying for transport below the £10 threshold significantly hinders their recovery in myriad ways.Prior to the 12 weeks of funding, participants in the study reported missing appointments important for their wellbeing and making sacrifices and trade-offs that sometimes affected their children in order to manage the cost of travel. The most frequently cited sacrifice was food. The strategies that survivors employed to manage their transport needs had negative impacts on health and wellbeing, further hindering the recovery process.
By contrast, funded travel made a significant difference to the ability of survivors to get to appointments and had important positive impacts on their health and wellbeing. At the end of the 12-week period of funded transport, 100% of survey respondents declared that they had not missed any ECAT or other appointments. In addition to using the funded transport to travel to ECAT appointments, participants also used the funded transport to explore London, take English classes, socialise and join new activities. Over the 12-week project period the participants took 13,806 separate journeys, of which 77% (10,667) were made by bus. The funded travel had significant health and wellbeing impacts on survivors, including less stress, less isolation, greater confidence, a sense of independence, empowerment to make decisions, the ability to build and maintain social networks, and feeling useful to others. All of these are crucial to recovery.
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