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October 7, 2022

Vital role for local government as cost of living crisis increases risk of modern slavery

By Paul McAnulty, UK & Europe Programme Director at Hope for Justice

 

Poverty is one of the major drivers that underpins exploitation, and the current cost of living crisis is pushing more and more people into financial hardship. This in turn is leaving them in increasingly vulnerable situations and at greater risk of modern slavery.

 

So there is an urgent need for us to raise awareness of the risks of modern slavery and to protect those who are most vulnerable from being exploited.

 

Families who are already struggling are being pushed to the brink. You will likely have heard about the vast numbers of people having to use food banks and soup kitchens. Many of the survivors we work with are reliant on this support, but are unable to access services because of rising demand.

 

The scale of modern slavery

The first in-depth global study into modern slavery for five years has found that there are now an estimated 49.6 million people trapped in modern slavery worldwide – that’s 1 in every 150 people alive today.

 

We are expecting UK-specific figures to be released in the coming months, with the most up-to-date estimate we have suggesting there are 136,000 people trapped in modern slavery in this country. Modern slavery and human trafficking remains a ‘hidden’ crime, which is significantly underreported.

 

What we do know is that slavery is the joint third-largest criminal enterprise in the world, making $150.2 billion in illegal profits each year (Global Financial Integrity report, 2017), after counterfeiting and drug trafficking. It has a footprint in each and every local authority area in the UK.

 

As vulnerable people become even more vulnerable, it has never been more important to ensure that those in our communities who are at the greatest risk of exploitation are protected.

 

Councils’ key role

Local authorities are classified as first responders, which means that they have a duty of care to support any victims of slavery identified within their region. Sadly, the response to this remains patchy. There are some examples of best practice being demonstrated by local authorities with a designated modern slavery resource, but at the opposite end of this spectrum of response, some are just refusing to “first respond” in cases of crisis, where survivors are arguably at their most vulnerable.

 

The key issue seems to be a lack of clarity around where in a local authority organisation this responsibility should sit. Community safety? Adult and child safeguarding teams? But local authorities in England and Wales not only have an obligation to notify the Home Office by way of a consented National Referral Mechanism (NRM) referral or the Duty to Notify process, but are also in a position to support survivors with access to public funds, safe accommodation, and immediate safeguarding needs.

 

Local councils have a key role to play in identifying and supporting potential victims. The issue of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK is a growing and evolving problem, presenting itself in varying forms. Identifying these complex forms of modern slavery is a vital role that local councils can play.

 

They can also work to ensure that the supply chains they procure from are free from modern slavery, as well as raising awareness of modern slavery within their communities.

 

Further information on the role of local authorities and their responsibilities in tackling modern slavery can be found here.

 

Council staff need to be informed

Council staff need to be aware and trained in recognising the various signs and indicators of forced labour, sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, domestic servitude and organ harvesting. Often modern slavery signs and indicators are overlooked as staff are not trained or aware of how to escalate their concerns in an appropriate manner that puts the welfare of the potential victim at the centre of any action. Empowering council staff to know the signs, indicators and how to respond to modern slavery helps make our communities more resilient and safer places for vulnerable individuals who could be potential victims of this crime.

 

However, prevention is always better than cure and councils are well placed to run a number of public awareness raising initiatives to make their communities more resilient towards the risk of exploitation and slavery.

 

Our approach

Hope for Justice is an international, non-governmental organisation which exists to bring an end to modern slavery. Our ambitions for the UK are to create communities that are more resilient to slavery; improve collaborative, multi-agency responses; build capacity into wider services and partner organisations, and improve standards of advocacy and care for survivors.

 

We do this through three main programmes.

 

Community engagement programmes

Our community engagement programme has multilingual teams of community engagement specialists embedded within our three community Hubs in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and the North West. They work closely with local authorities and other partners to identify, support and promote engagement of those impacted by modern slavery and human trafficking.

 

The specialists meet directly with victims to offer independent guidance, and the Hubs also complete community outreach work, independently and alongside local partners, to proactively identify victims and ensure they are removed from situations of vulnerability and set on a path to their preferred future.

 

The community engagement specialists offer advice and guidance to other professionals within councils such as social workers, housing officers and community safety teams, supporting victims with identification and expert advocacy.

 

Hope for Justice has found local authorities can help us achieve the best outcomes by:

-Providing emergency accommodation for potential victims regardless of recourse to public funds (pre-NRM)

-Continuing to work in multi-agency partnerships with third sector organisations

-Encouraging service users to seek and engage with independent advice

 

Empowering survivors to make informed choices

Secondly, advisers in our Independent Modern Slavery Advocacy (IMSA) programme empower survivors to make informed choices about their options and recovery, working with them and their support mechanisms to open doors and create opportunities.

 

We inform survivors of their legal rights and entitlements, including local authority housing, and support responsibilities for survivors that exist in international and domestic frameworks. IMSAs liaise with local council officers, for example within housing and community care, to promote survivors’ access to recovery services and demonstrate their entitlement. We also have an advice service for survivors and/or professionals working within the sector.

 

Trauma-informed training

And thirdly, we run a trauma-informed training programme, which helps the wider sector and frontline practitioners develop the skills to better identify and support survivors of slavery. We also offer specialised training for professions/disciplines, including social work, housing and healthcare, in skill-based training for trauma-informed case reporting and in trauma-informed listening around modern slavery.

 

-To request support for a service user, multi-agency operation or to obtain advice and support for a professional, email ukhubs@hopeforjustice.org

-For advocacy, email advocacy.advice@hopeforjustice.org

-For training, email training.uk@hopeforjustice.org or visit: Training | Hope for Justice

-Alternatively, you can call us on 0300 008 8000.