LGA: modern slavery referrals by councils soar ninefold

Referrals of potential victims of modern slavery made by councils have soared ninefold in five years, new figures show, highlighting the demands on local authority services already under significant pressure, the LGA warns today.


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 estimate there are 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, which all child victims and some adult victims are entitled access to.

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 relating to children in the past five years, 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.”

Anyone who believes someone is in immediate danger due to modern slavery or exploitation should call police on 999, or 101 if there is no immediate danger. Alternatively, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.

Case studies

  • Seven people were arrested on suspicion of modern slavery offences in Ipswich following an operation involving Ipswich Borough Council and Suffolk County Council. A quantity of cash was seized during the operation, which also involved the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the National Crime Agency, Romanian Police and the British Red Cross.
    Ipswich Borough Council has teamed up with Suffolk Police to increase community awareness of modern slavery by hosting a poster on one of its bin lorries.
  • South Kesteven District Council has signed an agreement to work with all of its partners, including contractors and the police, to tackle modern slavery following a case where vulnerable people were held captive, working for a controlling family in various locations across the county. The resulting prosecution saw 11 defendants jailed for up to 15 years each.
  • Reigate and Banstead Borough Council launched a campaign to raise awareness of modern slavery and emphasise that it’s something that happens everywhere, including in Surrey. More than 900 people signed pledges to look out for the signs of modern slavery and tell their friends and family; more than 1,300 unique visits were made to a new website section for more information, and 88 per cent of council employees said they had seen the campaign. Many social media posts were shared by key organisations including the Modern Slavery Helpline, Crimestoppers and Trading Standards. As a result, thousands of residents now know how to spot the signs of modern slavery and report suspicions.
  • Nottingham City Council has received government funding for a data modelling tool to target rogue landlords more effectively and tackle poor housing conditions and related issues including modern slavery, trafficking and sexual exploitation. The system will help prioritise high-risk properties for enforcement action by using multiple layers of data from council departments and partner organisations such as Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue and Nottinghamshire Police.


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