Today marks 3 years since the UK Modern Slavery Act received Royal Assent, and for the first time since records began, the top nationality of victims of modern slavery in the UK is British. Overtaking Albanian and Vietnamese nationals, British adults and children are being increasingly referred for support following brutal cases of exploitation.
Modern slavery is a cruel crime, robbing innocent people of their rights to life and liberty. It is often misunderstood as an injustice that leaves individuals imprisoned in physical chains. While this can indeed be the case, the slavery we see today in fact takes place in broad daylight, in local towns and in public places. From car washes to nail bars and residential homes to brothels, men, women and children across the UK are fiercely abused, forced to work without pay, and left in a continuous cycle of exploitation.
The UK has shown world-class leadership in addressing this issue over the last 3 years. The Government has committed millions of pounds to bring change, law enforcement agencies have worked hard to achieve a 160% increase in recording of the crime, numerous businesses have pledged to eradicate slavery in the supply chain, the National Crime Agency has made this a top priority threat, referrals for support have increased year on year, and other countries have committed to drafting legislation, much like the UK, to ensure all are committed to tackling modern slavery.
While so much progress has indeed been made, the statistics revealed today reinforce the fact that we cannot afford to become complacent – criminal networks have established themselves in the UK and are taking advantage of the vulnerable right here on our doorstep. Children are being used to deal drugs across county lines while vulnerable adults are providing labour on farms and in factories.
Slavery is a serious crime with serious consequences. Strong foundations have been laid in the fight against it, but as we step into our fourth year under the Act, we must continue to work hard to protect our fellow citizens, building the capacity of police, local authorities, businesses and members of the public to ensure the UK remains hostile to the crime of modern slavery.