28 April 2020

Life in lockdown for survivors of modern slavery

Adavu, a project of the Birmingham Methodist District, supports adult survivors of modern slavery in the West Midlands. Liisa Wiseman, project manager, reflects on the impact of coronavirus on this vulnerable group and in particular on people living with no recourse to public funds at this time.

The Coronavirus is tightening its hold on the everyday lives of everyone, affecting our movements, our relationships, our health and daily routines.  Its impact is perhaps even more pronounced on our clients, who are true survivors, over half of whom have no recourse to public funds.

First and foremost, the lockdown and social distancing is having a tremendous impact on the mental health of our clients, the vast majority of whom suffer from anxiety and depression at best, to complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicidal ideation in more complex cases.  Not being free to move about, attend college, visit friends or sit in nature is bringing memories of forced exploitation to the surface. 

Many clients are struggling with anxiety in the confines of their four walls. Many are fearful of dying or of their children falling ill.  They are unable to have the all-important unhindered social interaction with friends and some worry about their estranged families back home, wondering if they will survive the pandemic where the health care system is not as efficient.

Many of our clients also have serious underlying health conditions that necessitate strict self-isolation so we are receiving significantly more requests for food and toiletry deliveries that we are responding to.  Three of our clients are facing giving birth without the support of a birthing partner.

We are trying to find ways to lift the spirits of our clients (regular calls, WhatsApp conversations, activity parcels, birthday cards) as well as continuing with our casework (helping with financial matters, advocating in areas of housing and health). We have also increased the frequency of our contact according to the vulnerabilities of our clients; this ranges from daily well-being checks to fortnightly calls but we do miss the face-to-face contact that we all need as human beings.    

Living with no recourse to public funds

Many are living in shared housing, surviving on £37 per week and facing increased food bills. The closure of libraries with IT facilities and the absence of Wifi in their accommodation, mean that clients are now having to choose between spending money on their data packages on their phones (needed for Job Centre and Universal Credit accounts, online education, and activities for their children) or food.  We know some clients have decided to focus on food, reducing their online access and thereby reducing their connectedness - exacerbating their mental health conditions

The pausing of other services and support (such as college, parents and toddler groups, religious worship gatherings) has meant less distraction and more time to stop and think about their personal situations - the trauma of their exploitation, their pending asylum cases, their friends and families back home.

The closure of schools and nurseries has meant added pressure both on finances for food otherwise provided by school meals, and on the mental well-being of the parent (most are single parents).

Fund raising

To enable the Adavu Project to send out activity packs to clients as a means to help them manage their anxieties and fears in a creative way, we have sent out an appeal to the Birmingham District's Churches for financial support - we are hopeful to raise sufficient funds to pay for these packs that are over and above our normal operations but which are greatly needed. Donations can be made here.

Hope for the future

We are in tough times but we are digging deep and will hold on.  We will all come out of this, having learned much from the resilience and strength of the survivors whom we walk alongside.

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