For the first time, the number of people referred in one quarter into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) has exceeded 4,000. The NRM is the UK’s framework for identifying potential victims of modern slavery. For those referred into it, the Home Office makes a ‘reasonable grounds’ decision on whether they may be a victim of modern slavery. If the decision is positive, they get access to support (like accommodation, legal aid, and counselling) while they wait for a ‘conclusive grounds decision’. A record number of ‘reasonable grounds’ decisions were also made last quarter – with 89% of the 4,033 decisions made being positive.
Robyn Heitzman, Hope for Justice’s Policy and Research Officer, said: “We are pleased to see the Home Office’s recent recruitment of additional decision-makers means that the backlog of NRM cases is starting to be cleared. The move is a step towards ensuring survivors are not left in unnecessary uncertainty while waiting for delayed decisions. But no survivor should have to wait 536 days – the current average wait for a conclusive grounds decision to be made – to get the recognition and support they need.”
The latest NRM data from the Home Office shows a 34% increase in the number of potential victims referred compared to this time last year. 4,171 potential victims were referred between 1 April and 30 June 2022, of whom:
- The majority (79%) were male and 21% were female
- 54% said they were exploited as adults and 39% said they were exploited as children
- Nearly half (48%) said they had been exploited only while in the UK
- 1 in 4 (24%) were UK nationals, the second most common nationality represented
The most common reason for which the children referred into the NRM had been exploited was for criminal activity, while for adults it was forced labour. This increase in child criminal exploitation is related to a growing number of ‘county lines’ investigations. Children are often recruited into ‘county lines’ activity (the movement of drugs from one area to another to be sold, usually from urban areas to rural counties) by organised criminal networks so that the perpetrators can more easily avoid detection.
“The rising numbers of referrals to the NRM may indicate that more people on the frontline are aware of modern-day slavery and how to identify a potential victim,” says Heitzman. “But they also show how prevalent all kinds of exploitation are, right here in the UK. That’s why all of us must be alert for the signs of exploitation, even where we least expect it, and why our work on preventing exploitation, supporting victims, and reforming society is still so important.”