Ninefold increase in modern slavery referrals by councils

By agency reporter
March 18, 2019

The latest National Crime Agency statistics show the number of council referrals of suspected victims of modern slavery to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s framework for referring and supporting victims – has risen from 153 in 2013 to 1,342 in 2018. The rate of council referrals has increased by 70 per cent in the last year alone, from 789 in 2017, and 221 per cent in two years, from 418 in 2016.

Government figures show there are estimated to be between 10,000 and 13,000 victims of slavery in the UK, although this may be an underestimate.

The LGA, which represents 370 councils and all fire and rescue authorities in England, said the increase in council referrals suggests an increasing awareness of modern slavery and the growing issue of county lines drug trafficking, many cases of which are included in the NRM figures.

It is warning that the rapid year-on-year increase in referrals is further evidence of the current huge pressures on children’s services, housing and adult social care, access to which, all child victims and some adult victims are entitled.

No specific funding is given to councils to support victims of modern slavery, who may have suffered appalling abuse, been forced to live in squalor and, in the case of many adult victims, paid scandalous wages as a result of exploitation by criminal gangs.

The LGA, which is working with the Home Office on reforms to the NRM, is urging the Government to use the Spending Review to provide more funding for councils to help tackle modern slavery and support its victims. With 90 per cent of council referrals in the past five years relating to children, the Association says this needs to include plugging the £3.1 billion funding gap facing children’s services, as well as the £3.6 billion funding gap in adult social care services by 2025.

The Government is currently piloting a number of reforms to the NRM, including increasing the length of time support is provided to adult victims while they are in the NRM and after they leave it, and consideration of how to make the system more effective for children and young people.

But the LGA is warning that supporting these changes over the longer term will require increased funding for key council services victims may need, including housing, children’s services and adult social care.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Councils will not tolerate the exploitation of people in their communities and are committed to tackling modern slavery, which can have a devastating impact on vulnerable people working for little or no pay for ruthless profiteers who threaten or use physical violence.

“Children and young people face specific risks through county lines drug trafficking or child sexual exploitation, and it’s vital that councils have the resources they need to tackle this abuse and support its victims.

“The spiralling rate of council referrals is having a huge impact on council services already at a tipping point, including children’s services and adult social care. Supporting victims and creating a sustainable NRM system in the long term will require appropriate levels of funding.

“Modern slavery is a rising threat to our communities. Government needs to use the Spending Review to plug funding gaps facing key council services which can help support victims.

“Because of its hidden nature, modern slavery is a major concern that everyone needs to be alert to wherever they live and report any suspicious behaviour. A simple phone call could make a world of difference to people living miserable lives at the hands of heartless criminals.”

Modern slavery can take many forms including the trafficking of people, forced labour, servitude, slavery, sexual and criminal exploitation. It also includes other forms of exploitation such as organ removal, forced begging, forced benefit fraud, forced marriage and illegal adoption.

Anyone who believes someone is in immediate danger due to modern slavery or exploitation should call police on 999, or if there is no immediate danger, on101  Alternatively, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

* Read a government briefing on modern slavery here

* Local Government Association https://www.local.gov.uk/

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