The UK led the way when it introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Safeguarding professionals working in the field will know that this abhorrent practice continues to flourish and to affect vulnerable men, women and children.
The government, under the initiative of Victoria Atkins MP, a Home Office minister with responsibility for areas that include safeguarding, has just announced an independent review into how the Act is working. It is a cross-party initiative, led by Frank Field MP, Maria Miller MP and Baroness Butler-Sloss, former president of the Family Division of the High Court.
The Act brought in tougher sentences for this vile crime and this week the Home Office announced that there are 600 live investigations at present.
The NHS defines modern slavery as “the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation.
“Individuals may be trafficked into, out of or within the UK, and they may be trafficked for a number of reasons including sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude and organ harvesting.”
It adds that the Home Office estimates there are 13,000 victims and survivors of modern slavery in the UK; 55% of these are female and 35% of all victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation.
At-risk groups include women brought to the UK to be trafficked into prostitution, homeless men sleeping rough, vulnerable adults with learning difficulties and children, with teenagers being forced to traffic drugs or earn money as sex workers. In March the National Crime Agency reported that criminals were targeting spaces such as care homes to lure vulnerable children into such roles.
“County lines” groups that form a link from urban bases into rural areas often use such young and vulnerable people as drugs mules to distribute their product.
That said, labour exploitation using vulnerable adults formed the largest group of referrals, with 2,352 cases out of 5,145 referred last year, up 35% on the previous year.
The Home Office statement said, “the criminal networks that recruit and control victims are constantly adapting and finding new ways to exploit victims”. The independent review is designed to enhance the UK’s legislation “to effectively tackle this issue”, it said.
The review will develop an understanding “on the nature of modern slavery offences, the provisions around legal access and compensation to victims and improving the support given to child victims”.
The Home Office also announced a £2m-extension of the Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) scheme, “which works with trafficked children to ensure their best interests are met in any decision making by the public authorities involved in their care”.
For anyone involved with implementing the Care Act or engaging in regular contact with vulnerable people and considering safeguarding training, modern slavery is set become an increasingly important focal point in protecting our communities.