New figures suggest modern slavery in UK is further hidden by the pandemic

A lack of increase in the numbers of possible cases of modern slavery in the UK indicates that the pandemic has served to further conceal this abhorrent crime, says Hope for Justice.

The latest annual Home Office figures show that in 2020 there were 10,613 potential cases of modern slavery. This is compared to 10,616 in 2019 and 6,982 in 2018.

The statistics represent the numbers of people referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the government’s process for identifying potential victims of modern slavery – via ‘first responders’, who are specified statutory authorities and non-governmental organisations.

Patrick Proctor, Head of Programme Operations at Hope for Justice, said: “This is the first year that we have not seen an increase in the numbers of possible cases, and it will very likely be due to Covid-19 and the lockdowns. Modern slavery is always an underreported and hidden crime, but in the last year the pandemic has quite literally hidden people who are being trafficked from view.

“As we begin to move towards a ‘new normal’ in the UK in the coming months, we hope that people trapped in modern slavery will have increased contact with first responders, so they can begin the NRM process which will help them get the support that they need to recover. As we all begin to be outside our homes more, we would also urge members of the public to be aware of the signs of human trafficking and know what to do if they see them.”

The Home Office is responsible for making a ‘reasonable grounds’ decision through the NRM as to whether or not an individual could be a survivor of modern slavery. Adults who are given a positive ‘reasonable grounds’ decision have access to support, including accommodation, subsistence, legal aid and counselling, until a ‘conclusive grounds’ decision on their case is made.

Adults with a positive ‘conclusive grounds’ decision are currently entitled to at least a further 45 days of support to allow them to ‘move on’ from NRM support, whilst those with a negative decision receive nine days of support.

As at 1st February 2021, a total of 82 per cent (8,665) of people referred into the NRM last year are awaiting a conclusive grounds decision, having received a positive reasonable grounds decision, along with thousands of people referred in previous years still awaiting their conclusive decision.

Patrick Proctor continued: “These latest figures show a worrying majority of people, 82 per cent, are trapped in a stressful and confusing state of limbo as they await a conclusive grounds decision. It is vital that their cases are progressed urgently, so that they are able to focus on recovery and move on with their lives.”

Other key findings included:

  • Of the 10,613 potential cases, 63 per cent (6,716) claimed that the exploitation occurred in the UK only, whilst 26 per cent (2,722) claimed that the exploitation took place overseas only.
  • Around half of referrals (48 per cent; 5,087) were for individuals who claimed they were exploited as adults
  • 47 per cent (4,946) of referrals were for individuals who claimed they were exploited as children.
  • As in 2019, the most common type of exploitation for adults was labour exploitation, in which people are made to work long hours for little or no pay, against their will, often under the threat of violence or actual physical harm.
  • In 2020, the most common type of exploitation for minors was criminal exploitation.
  • As in 2019, in 2020 potential victims from the UK, Albania and Vietnam were the three most common nationalities to be referred to the NRM.

You can read the full summary of the 2020 statistics in the NRM End of Year Summary report, here