Chris Mould, FSCI’s Chief Executive, reflects on the vital role the Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion is playing in the fight to tackle an increasingly troubling problem.
I welcomed the reports in the UK media this week warning that modern slavery was far more extensive than we had realised. I don’t mean I’m happy about modern slavery! Of course not! No way! But I am very pleased the scale of the problem made the news in the way it did. FSCI, the Foundation for Social Change and Inclusion, has been working for years to stem the flow. Our House of Opportunity Programme provides vulnerable young people a safe home, life skills training and employment opportunities. And with somewhere safe to live, good people to hang out with and something good to do, people who could so easily have found themselves duped, trafficked, trapped and exploited set off on a different and so much more positive track instead.
Intervention works. Prevention works. We have ample evidence. But that doesn’t make it easy to do, or easy to fund and that’s why I’m pleased that modern slavery is in the news. FSCI and other organisations like us need much more support, and hopefully fresh attention to the problem will help.
Last time I talked to Maria* we shared stories about places in England we both know: Walthamstow in east London and Southampton on the south coast. But that’s where the similarities end. Our experiences of these relatively unremarkable parts of the UK are worlds apart. She saw her London from the inside of a brothel. Likewise Southampton. Conned by a “boyfriend”, Maria* travelled to the UK where he abandoned her in the control of his associates. Rescued eventually, Maria* was returned by the authorities to her home in Southeast Europe. There, she was put in the care of her family and as soon as it was safe for them to do so, they, because they were actually part of the problem not the solution, transported her straight back to the UK. Rescued again, and this time, lessons learnt, referred to the House of Opportunity Programme, Maria* is slowly learning to live a rather more normal life. In fact, more than that, when she and I last spoke, she was pursuing a dream and studying for a degree.
“When I finish the programme here, do you think FSCI could help me go to the UK”, Igor* asked. “Why?”, I replied, and began warning him that life wasn’t automatically as golden in the UK as he might imagine. He knew that though. He had been before. Next time, he hoped it would be different. Picked up “by a Turk”, soon after he left the orphanage, along with some other young men, Igor found himself working at a car wash in Birmingham. “The boss was Iranian. It was bad. We often didn’t get paid,” he told me.
In the end Igor* and a friend escaped and made their way back home. One day Igor saw a piece on TV about our House of Opportunity Programme. He phoned the office and asked if he could have a place. And that’s when things started looking up again for Igor.
And, yes, Igor* still wants to travel. But, he says, this time he’ll have skills and experience, and he believes that will make all the difference.
Social services make an urgent phone call. They need to place a nineteen year old girl and her seventeen year old brother. They’ve just heard that the youngsters’ father is being released from prison and family reunion is not what these two need. The House of Opportunity Programme, by contrast, is. And our team respond promptly. When I met them, the girl had a job, the boy was completing high school. But, social services can’t pay. These aren’t children and the authorities work within the statute: they’ve no budget to go beyond. Even if it makes overwhelming, in-your-face obvious sense!
And that’s why I’m glad modern slavery is getting renewed attention again. We’ve got to join the dots, across borders and budgets. We simply must face the fact that one thing will lead to another, as night follows day, unless programmes like ours become more widespread.
Prevention works. Let’s have more of it!
*Names changed to protect identity