The most recent statistics from the Home Office show a 20% increase in reports of potential modern slavery victims.
Modern slavery is the illegal exploitation of people for personal or commercial gain. It covers a wide range of abuse and exploitation including sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, forced labour, criminal exploitation and organ harvesting.
Victims of modern slavery can be of any age, gender, nationality, and ethnicity. They are tricked or threatened into work and may feel unable to leave or report the crime through fear or intimidation. They may not recognise themselves as a victim.
The statistics come from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) or via the Duty to Notify (DtN) process.
The (NRM) is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support from First Responders – police officers, local authorities, NGOs, and government agencies.
Since November 2015, specific public authorities in England and Wales must notify the Home Office via the DtN process of suspected adult victims of modern slavery that do not consent to enter the NRM.
In 2021, the NRM received 12,727 referrals of potential victims of modern slavery up from 10,601. This year saw the highest number of referrals since the NRM began in 2009.
Of all referrals this year, 50% (6,411) were adults whilst 43% (5,468) claimed exploitation as children, with the remaining percentage not specified or unknown.
Reports of modern slavery to the NRM in West Yorkshire represents 4% of all incidents recorded in England. Reports of modern slavery in the region was up 20% in 2021 compared to the previous twelve months.
In 2021, there were 456 potential victims of modern slavery in West Yorkshire, compared to 365 in the previous year. Most victims (65%) were adults, with 35% reported as children, lower than the national average.
In 2020, West Yorkshire Police had one of the lowest rates of reported victims of modern slavery, coming in at 31 out of 39 police forces, with a rate of 15.6 per 100,000 people but this jumped to a rate of 19.4 per 100,000, the ninth highest in England.
However, charities believe that the numbers are not representative of the true number of victims of modern slaves in England. Two anti-slavery charities Asian Standard spoke to also believe that upcoming changes to British legislation will make it harder for victims to report the crimes against them.
Justine Currell, Director of anti-slavery charity Unseen, said: ‘We believe the true figure of potential modern slavery victims in the UK is much higher and the Government statistics only reflect those who want to come forward.
“Impending changes to UK legislation may make it even harder for very vulnerable people to come forward in the future and seek the help and support they desperately need.
“We run the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline which operates 24/7, 365 days a week. It’s free to use, available in more than 200 languages and totally confidential.
“Our expert Helpline operators are there for help and advice, not only for victims of modern slavery, but for the public, businesses, and statutory agencies like the police, NHS, and local government. If you need help, have any concerns, or need advice, call us on 08000 121 700.”
NCVOs argue that the upcoming changes to the Bill will harm victims of modern slavery by creating a harsher system for survivors with higher thresholds., meaning a greater risk of support being rejected.
Survivors of modern slavery could be denied access to the support that will enable them to access safety and recover and rebuild due to an unreasonable evidentiary burden. This is exacerbated by the priority given to immigration enforcement.
Measures in the Bill will put a duty on the police to arrest and prosecute anyone identified by them, for instance in a nail bar, brothel, or drug farm, who is undocumented.
The Bill introduces cruel “trauma deadlines” by putting a time limit on when survivors must disclose their experiences, after which they are assumed to be lying and their credibility is damaged.
Jamie Fookes, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group Coordinator at Anti-Slavery, said: “NMR statistics is a very important tool to monitor the number of people experiencing modern slavery in the UK, however, they will never be able to demonstrate the full picture as they only catch those who have been referred, rather than those still experiencing slavery.
“Of particular concern is the large increase in Duty to Notify statistics as this implies more victims are being identified but are not willing to be referred to the NRM.
“The Nationality and Borders Bill will return to parliament next week, a bill that would make it even harder for victims of trafficking to be identified.
“These statistics should serve as a reminder to MPs that the system must be able to provide the support that victims of trafficking need, without fear of being arrested or deported. The Bill as it stands will likely make it harder for victims to be identified and will heighten their distrust of the authorities.
“The UK Modern Slavery Helpline (on 08000 121 700) is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in over 200 languages for free confidential advice for anyone who is experiencing modern slavery or if you suspect someone is experiencing modern slavery.”
Alison Lowe OBE, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, said: “Modern slavery remains a very real threat to our communities and something which destroys the lives of those exploited by it. That is why tackling it must continue to be a priority.
“Here in West Yorkshire we really have been leading the way, having created a West Yorkshire Anti-slavery Partnership and being instrumental in the formation of a National Anti-Slavery Network, both of which are made up of key partners from Government, law enforcement and support organisations. These networks champion best practice, increase information sharing, improve the support for victims and survivors, and crucially, reduce the opportunities for perpetrators to operate, both locally and across England and Wales.
“However, we absolutely need everyone’s help to eliminate modern slavery and human trafficking, and the best way for members of the public to help is to familiarise themselves with the signs and indicators of it so they report suspicions when they see them.
“General indicators of human trafficking or modern slavery can include signs of physical or psychological abuse, fear of authorities, irregular activity at homes or addresses, poor living conditions and working long hours for little or no pay. By reporting suspicions you could be saving lives.
“We need you to report any suspicions, no matter how small, to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or to the Police.”
Asian Standard has reached out to West Yorkshire Police and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority for comments. Check back for updates.
If you have reason to suspect trafficking or human exploitation, please report information and intelligence to the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700. If you feel that it is an emergency, please dial 999.