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Many modern slavery victims identified but not receiving formal support, data reveals

The number of people identified as potential victims, but never passed on for formal support, has increased by 46% from 2020, new data has revealed.

08/03/22

Many modern slavery victims identified but not receiving formal support, data reveals

New government statistics on modern slavery show a 20% rise in the number of trafficking cases referred for support in 2021 – with 12,727 potential victims referred to the Home Office in 2021, compared to 10,601 the previous year. Published last week, the Home Office says the number of referrals received in 2021 is the highest since it began recognising potential victims through its National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in 2009.

However, campaigners have pointed out that the number of potential victims not receiving support in 2021 has increased by 46% compared to 2020 as many are never passed on for formal support.

They say that, under Duty to Notify statistics, instances can be seen in which suspected victims are identified by first responders – such as the police, social workers or border control – but do not consent for further engagement. They say this can put vulnerable people at risk of re-trafficking, and take away their chance to access safe housing, caseworkers, or support linked to their exploitation.

The figures show that the rise in suspected victims not asking for support is at least double the rise in those being referred, with campaigners saying this shows that the Government's ‘tough on claimants’ rhetoric is starting to have real-world consequences. People identified as eligible to be considered for trafficking support are now even less willing to engage with the authorities than they were two years ago.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the Government’s system for identifying victims of modern slavery. Frontline workers – including local authority social workers and the police – have a duty as ‘first responders’ to refer potential victims of modern slavery into the mechanism.

This latest National Referral Mechanism data, which outlines a rise in identification, has been used by the Government to justify cuts and limits to support for survivors under Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, currently making its way through the Lords.

Under Part 5, survivors of modern slavery would no longer be guaranteed a right to support – such as safe housing, counselling, or financial subsistence. Campaigners say that Part 5 would also see certain ‘types’ of victims, such as those with a criminal conviction or barriers to sharing abuse ‘quickly enough’, subject to new bans from support.

Cosmetics company Lush has now joined forces with more than 40 leading modern slavery charities and law firms to call for Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill to be scrapped.

Hilary Jones, Ethics Director at Lush, said it is ‘crucially important’ that once victims have been identified they are able to access the help and support they need.

“Modern day slavery is still a reality in supply chains, both in the UK and worldwide, and companies have rightly been required to put in extra measures to root it out.”

Each of Lush’s 101 store fronts across the UK will carry the slogan: “Don’t let the Government rip up support for modern slavery survivors”, alongside a QR code and URL, so that customers can quickly and easily take part in the Scrap Part 5 action. The action, led by non-profit After Exploitation and supported by charities such as the Women’s Institute (WI) and Women for Refugee Women, is hoped to embolden peers in the House of Lords to push back against the damaging changes at Report Stage.

Maya Esslemont, Director of After Exploitation, a volunteer-led organisation that investigates hidden data on what happens to survivors after leaving exploitation, said the campaign comes at a pivotal time for survivors of modern slavery.

“We only have a matter of days to stop the Government from introducing new exemptions, which would punish survivors of criminal exploitation and take support away from those too traumatised to share details of their abuse ‘fast enough’.”

“We know that there is no debate to ‘win’. Part 5 is simply wrong.”

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