Coronavirus lockdown impacts number of suspected modern slavery referrals

Humberside Police launch new task force to tackle modern day slavery
Credit: PA

Referrals of suspected victims of modern slavery fell almost a quarter during the strictest coronavirus lockdown, official figures show.

The UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) received 2,209 referrals of potential victims between April and June - a fall of 23% from the first quarter of 2020, according to the Home Office.

It marks yet another drop in referrals, with the first three months of the year a decrease from the previous quarter and the first fall since 2016.

According to the Home Office both decreases are “understood to be influenced by the effects of restrictions implemented in the UK as part of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic”.

These include travel restrictions by other countries on people coming to the UK, people staying at home or self-isolating, and businesses shutting after the lockdown on March 23.

A photo issued by Lincolnshire Police of a caravan which men were forced to live in as the victims of a modern slavery ring. Credit: Lincolnshire Police

Last year, the number of suspected modern slavery victims in the UK hit a record high.

More than 10,000 potential victims of trafficking, slavery and forced labour were identified.

From the latest release, for the first time, more referrals were received for child potential victims than adults.

The number of reports around potential child victims rose from April-June, compared to the decrease in reports of adult cases.

The Home Office put some of the rise in cases down to an increase in the identification of county lines cases. During the second quarter 409 referrals were flagged as county lines referrals.

The majority (85%) of these suspected slavery victims were male children.

Reacting to that figure, Iryna Pona, Policy Manager at The Children’s Society, said: "We saw through our frontline services how criminals continued to cynically groom and exploit vulnerable children to traffic drugs during lockdown. 

"They adapted their methods where necessary and took advantage of a situation in which many children were out of view of teachers, social workers and youth workers – meaning that even these shocking figures may be just the tip of the iceberg. 

Over half (58%) of referrals involved children, while adults made up 38% of the referrals and the age was unknown in 4% of cases.

Labour exploitation was most commonly reported for adults, while criminal exploitation was most common for suspected child victims.

UK nationals were the most common nationality of potential victims (44%) with Albanians the second most common.