Almost 30 modern slavery victims found every day in the UK last year, figures reveal

Almost 30 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to UK police forces every day on average during the first nine months of 2020.

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 4:45 pm

Home Office figures show 7,576 potential slavery and trafficking victims were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s apparatus for identifying and supporting victms – between January and September last year.

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That is the equivalent of 28 every day, and was an increase of 4.2 per cent on the same period in 2019 – despite fears the coronavirus pandemic could push slavery networks and their victims further underground.

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Tamara Barnett, director of the Human Trafficking Foundation.

Almost half the referrals during 2020 concerned children aged 17 or under, or adults exploited as children.

Here in Leeds, the total number of referrals was up by five per cent year-on-year as referrals were made for 147 adults and 102 children between last January and September.

But charities say the NRM figures are an underestimate of the true extent of slavery in the UK, as adults need to consent to a referral.

It also relies on designated first responders such as police and councils being aware of the programme and how to refer victims – something the Human Trafficking Foundation says is lacking.

The JPIMedia Investigations team is running a week-long series of reports on the issue of modern slavery.

A recent study in the Cambridge Journal of Evidence Based Policing, which examined cases of Vietnamese nationals arrested for cannabis cultivation in Surrey and Sussex, found police demonstrated “ignorance” and a lack of awareness of modern slavery.

“It really is a training issue,” says Tamara Barnett, director of the Human Trafficking Foundation, which brings together charities and parliamentarians to tackle slavery.

“The Government has done a little bit and published an online training tool for first responders but really it needs face to face training, and it’s not statutory this training."

The NRM figures refer to potential victims. Once referred, the Home Office will make a ‘reasonable grounds decision’ to determine if the person is likely a victim.

Of the 7,623 people the Home Office made decisions on between January and September, 6,980 (92 per cent) were judged to be genuine victims and could access accommodation and other support.

It also made 2,484 ‘conclusive grounds’ decisions – the second stage of the process, in which the Home Office makes a definitive ruling – of which 89 per cent were positive.

When asked about a lack of training for police officers, the Home Office said it had allocated £2m this year to support police tackle modern slavery and had invested £11.3m in the Modern Slavery Police Transformation Programme in the last three years.

The Modern Slavery Helpline can be called on 08000 121 700.

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