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Hidden issues: Modern day slavery in the UK

Laura Gavin 20 July 2018

“I was squeezed, like a bird trapped. He didn’t pay me anything. I remember the longest amount of time I had to work was from 9am until 5am next day and I had to sleep from 5 ‘til 9, four hours, then back to work. It was every day, I didn’t have one day off, no Sunday, no Saturday, nothing.”

Andrei* is recounting his experience of modern slavery in a rural Lincolnshire town. He was promised a job and business partnership in the UK by a friend, but ended up working nearly 24/7 for four months. When he asked about a salary, his employer would make excuses about having to pay the rent and various business costs. When the man discovered Andrei was planning to return to Romania, he reported him to the police, wrongly accusing him of stealing. Read Andrei's full story here.

A report released by the Global Slavery Index this week estimates that around 136,000 people are victims of the slave trade in the UK today. Like Andrei, they may be doing labouring work, or washing cars, or domestic servitude. Shocking statistics have emerged in recent years, stating potentially thousands of children are forced to work in settings from nail bars to cannabis factories.

They may be ‘given’ food or accommodation, but paid little or nothing in earnings, meaning they’re forever indentured to their employer and have no independent means.

Links between slave trade and homelessness

Photo by Abigail Faith on Unsplash

Lincolnshire Operations Manager Jonny Goldsmith has dealt with a growing number of cases in which people who are homeless were exploited, or made homeless as a result of being enslaved. He said:

“The link between modern day slavery and homelessness has existed for some time, but it was only really brought to the forefront of our minds as a Street Outreach Team in Lincolnshire back in 2014, when we were involved in a police operation. This culminated late last year in the conviction of a family whom for years had deliberately been targeting people who were sleeping on our streets.”

Often, victims of modern slavery are from other countries, targeted because of their vulnerability, and lack of rights.

In another case reported by P3’s Wolverhampton Street Outreach Team, a young woman from Lithuania was found sleeping in a tent, displayed devastating signs of abuse and mental health difficulties and was a suspected modern slavery victim. However, it was unclear whether she was eligible for state support.

“A lot of our clients have this problem”, says Sarah Mosley, Senior Street Outreach Worker at Wolverhampton. “They take zero-hour contracts, they’re so desperate they’ll take anything, but if it’s cash in hand work, it doesn’t 'count'.”

If someone hasn’t lived in the country for long enough or paid PAYE contributions, they may be declared NRPF (No Recourse for Public Funds), which makes it hard to find support, even if they manage to escape their situation.

Where to find help

Places like the Refugee & Migrant Centre in Wolverhampton and anti-trafficking agencies like Hope for Justice can help.

Sarah also represents P3 at the Wolverhampton Anti-Slavery Partnership (WASP) meeting every month, working alongside the police, immigration services, the Job Centre, and other charities such as Changing Lives and Hope for Justice, who recently delivered training to P3’s Manchester Justice team.

“We look at new legislation, ideas for partnerships and give updates from our organisations.” Sarah says. “It’s been really useful to have those links, that additional support. It can be hard to do this job on your own, and with something this complex, you need people who can investigate further. This partnership is also being used as a model for others across the country.”

If you suspect someone is a victim of trafficking or modern slavery or need confidential support or advice yourself, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 or get help identifying the signs and symptoms here.

P3 services like Lincolnshire Street Outreach and Wolverhampton Housing and Homelessness Service can offer support, advice on eligibility for welfare assistance, housing and work, and in some cases help to repatriate people who have been brought to this country as victims of modern slavery. For more information, click on the links or go to our Get Help page and type in your postcode to find P3 in your area.

*Name changed to preserve anonymity.