New research on refining a public health approach to modern slavery


New research published today examines the case for a public health approach to modern slavery and identifies the key components that are considered important in enabling the anti-slavery sector to address modern slavery through a public health lens. 

The research, which includes a report, an interactive framework and a guide for anti-slavery partnerships, has been developed by the University of Sheffield, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and Public Health England.

Public health approaches have been applied to a range of socially complex and long-standing problems, for example, serious violence. A public health approach is a way of thinking and acting collectively to address a problem that can damage health and wellbeing including: understanding a problem at a population level; framing the problem as part of a complex and interdependent system; collating data and evidence of what works; being prevention focused; protecting health and well-being; encouraging multi-agency working and addressing inequalities, social justice and human rights.  

A public health approach to modern slavery offers an opportunity for coordination of effort across the anti-slavery sector. It has emerged as a promising framework for prevention, for planning at a national and local level and as a means of bringing together existing frameworks with a humane focus. This research, funded by Research England, sought to build on initial research and emerging practice in order to further refine a public health framework to address modern slavery in the UK.

To inform the research, a series of online workshops were held with stakeholders from across the anti-slavery sector and beyond. Learning from these workshops helped to devise and design a refined public health framework to address modern slavery with multiple components including national factors, regional and local factors, service design factors and service delivery factors.

The research has the following outputs:

  • The full report of findings;
  • The development of a refined interactive framework for a public health approach to modern slavery;
  • A guide for policy, strategy and local partnerships to support them in adopting a public health approach to modern slavery.


Read the report: Refining a public health approach to modern slavery

View the interactive framework and partnerships guide: A public health approach to modern slavery


Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

“With its focus on prevention, multi-agency working and evidence of what works, a public health approach has considerable value to add to anti-slavery efforts. I am delighted that my office has been able to work collaboratively with the University of Sheffield and Public Health England to build on the emergent research and produce this refined framework for a public health approach to modern slavery.

Anti-slavery partnerships have an important role in driving anti-slavery activity at a local and regional level. I am aware that some partnerships have already undertaken efforts to adopt a public health approach, however this is not yet embedded within partnerships across the UK. 

From an early stage, all partners involved in the research therefore agreed it was essential to develop a tool to support anti-slavery partnerships in delivering a public health approach in practice. I hope that the Guide for policy, strategy and local partnerships is a helpful resource which enables partnerships to reflect on their current work and challenge themselves to think about where they can carry out activity to prevent modern slavery.”


Dr Liz Such, NIHR Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, said:

“This work offers anti-slavery partnerships support to prevent modern slavery across their local system. Much of it will look familiar: working together, building in good service design and delivery. But it also helps local anti-slavery partnerships take a strategic overview of prevention activity and build their own, locally relevant response. 

The tools describe different levels of prevention that will help partnerships plan and deliver services strategically as well as identify gaps in provision or delivery. Importantly, this work makes it clear that a public health approach can be for everyone working to prevent modern slavery. Research participants felt it was something the sector could gather around together to better meet the needs of affected people and communities. Now we have put this resource together, I’m looking forward to seeing it implemented, evaluated and refined further.”


Rosanna O’Connor, Interim Director for Health Improvement at Public Health England, said: 

“Public health professionals have for a long time recognised how taking a public health approach can help tackle complex problems. This ground-breaking work is a unique opportunity to share experience and knowledge with other partners to help prevent exploitation and slavery and the devastating harm it causes.  

One of Public Health England’s key missions is to reduce health inequalities and this requires a specific focus on those groups who are most vulnerable. Preventing modern slavery from occurring and supporting people out of exploitative situations will greatly contribute to this mission.”