modern slavery uk

Modern Slavery Falls For First Time in Four Years Due to Covid-19

Modern Slavery statistics for the first quarter of 2020 at its lowest in four years

Fresh Home Office statistics reveal that victims of Modern Slavery, which encompasses forced labour, exploitative work, organ harvesting, sexual slavery/forced prostitution, domestic servitude and criminal exploitation, has drastically fallen for the first time in four years.

The news comes as 2019 saw a record high for slavery victims being referred via the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) with 10,627 people identified, a hike of more than 50% from 2018.

Critics have since speculated that Modern Slavery will continue on this upwards trajectory, particularly when the post-Brexit rules are enforced as employers looking for cheap labour may turn to unscrupulous and illegal methods. However, that was before Coronavirus disrupted the status quo.

Modern Slavery is everywhere
Human trafficking and Modern Slavery can be found in all areas of the UK, even in rural villages. [Image: Northumbria Police.]

Of those who were exploited last year, just under half were minors (4,550). Two-thirds were male (7,224), one-third was female (3,991) while one victim was transgender and the sex of the remaining 11 victims was not recorded.

The most common avenue in which victims become enslaved is usually via labour exploitation, in which men and children make up the vast majority of victims. However, sexual slavery creeps in at a close second in which survivors are disproportionately female.

Although most slavery victims originate from the UK, migrants are smuggled in from all over the world to prop up the evil practice

Although most slavery victims originate from the UK, migrants are smuggled in from all over the world to prop up the evil practice. Traffickers lure vulnerable and usually poorer migrants from every corner of the globe, notably Albania and Vietnam, promising them a new life under fabricated job pretences. Yet once they arrive, they are forced to work excessively long hours for low, if any, pay. Many have their passports confiscated and are piled into unsanitary and overcrowded accommodation. It is not uncommon for victims to receive no pay whatsoever too, receiving only paltry meals and cigarettes.

agriculture and slavery
A popular avenue of exploitation is found in the agricultural and gaming industry. [Image: Gov UK.]

One landmark case last year illuminates the vindictive and excessively cruel nature of Modern Slavery. A UK criminal gang network had enslaved 400 victims from Poland, and by taking control of their bank accounts and forcing them to work menial jobs, had raked in over £2 million in under five years.

Victims were forced to work in recycling centres, farms and slaughterhouses while being kept in vermin-infested houses. One man reportedly washed in the local canal due to having no access to fresh water while another tragically died in captivity before two managed to flee and alert the authorities in 2015. The charity Hope for Justice caught wind of the activity when soup kitchen staff noticed large numbers of people turning up.

Although Modern Slavery remains a hidden crime, it sadly exists all around us – from the food that we eat, the tarmac we drive on, the polish on our nails to the packages we have delivered.

Although Modern Slavery remains a hidden crime, it sadly exists all around us – from the food that we eat, the tarmac we drive on, the polish on our nails to the packages we have delivered

Victims are most commonly forced to work in nail salons, car washes, prostitution, farms, factories, cannabis farms and other drug smuggling networks.

This year, the NRM noted a potential 2,871 victims for the first quarter of 2020, in which British citizens accounted for 756 cases. The figures demonstrate a 14% decrease in referrals from the three months previously, with experts pinpointing the decline as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. Reports show that the decrease is set to be the first quarter-on-quarter fall since 2016.

modern slavery uk
A snapshot of ‘Property‘, a film in the making about Modern Slavery.

However, overall referrals have still risen by 33% when compared to the first quarter of 2019 when there were 2,154 identified victims. 

As the number of migrants and travellers entering the UK has plummeted as a result of travel restrictions, business closures and a decreased reliance on staff has all worked to reduce labour exploitation and slavery

Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge knock-on effect on criminal gangs and therefore Modern Slavery. As the number of migrants and travellers entering the UK has plummeted as a result of travel restrictions, business closures and a decreased reliance on staff has all worked to reduce labour exploitation and slavery.

However, the charity Hestia which supports survivors has expressed concern that as the UK inches out of COVID-19 lockdown, Modern Slavery will again increase.

Ella Read from Hestia said: “As those businesses are allowed to open up again, we think the number of people being exploited in those industries will begin to increase again.

“And the risk is potentially higher, given that businesses and employers might not have as much money to provide for their wages and all of those kinds of things,” she added. 

As the pandemic trudges on, Home Office ministers have clarified that those receiving help via the NRM will continue to be able to do so. Victims identified by the NRM will further receive accommodation for up to three months in order to shield them from COVID-19.

Written by
Olivia Bridge
Join the discussion