Historically, the UK has been at the epicentre of human trafficking, and it is without a doubt that some of its historic success was built on slavery. Although a stain on its history, the UK has also been credited with revolutionary reform that saw the abolition of slavery. This includes the Slavery Abolition Act 1833, and more recently the Modern Slavery Act 2015 which has been reported as ‘the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first in the world’.
Despite the introduction of this Act, in 2016, the Global Slavery Index estimated there were 136,000 people living in modern slavery. So, despite being world-leading in terms of legislation, why are the figures still so high? Why is this unlikely to change anytime soon?
We are still unsure of the numbers
When creating any form of strategy, you need to understand the size of the task at hand in order to combat it. Currently, there seems to be very little understanding of the nature of modern slavery in the UK. The GSI’s figure is very different to the government’s figure of 10,000 to 13,000, which at best proves there is no consensus over the size of the problem in the UK.
So, not only do you need to understand the size of the problem, but you also need to be able to collect useful in-depth data which allows law enforcement to have a better understanding of how to combat human trafficking. This too is an issue as a recent government review stated that the National Referral Mechanism which collects data on modern slavery ‘does not support effective identification of victims, assist with prosecutions and/or support the production of meaningful management information’.
These two issues twinned together means the government has no sense of the size or depth of the issue of modern slavery. Therefore, from the offset it will be very difficult for them to put a halt to this issue.
We haven’t broken the victim cycle
It is clear that in the UK the victims of modern slavery are not getting the support they need in the long term. This is evident through NGO reports, such as Day 46, which reports on the substandard level of care given by the government and in particular the complete lack of appropriate housing given to victims.
Yet, the recent reports written by Select Committees and the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner also attest to how many victims are being treated as criminals by the government due to their immigration status even though they had no choice over whether they came to the country or not.
It is without a doubt that victim support needs greater attention from both a humanitarian perspective and the perspective of eradicating slavery. If victims are left without support, they are left vulnerable, and victims left vulnerable are more likely to become victims of slavery again. Siddharth Kara and Kevin Bales give good insight into this in their respective books.
We don’t have the funding
Like anything, funding is key. Without the proper funding how can you expect to solve an age-old problem such as slavery. To reduce the problem of modern slavery, not only do units such as the Human Trafficking Unit need funding, but so do other frontline services.
It is all well and good creating new training schemes such as Prevent, but there needs to be a more universal training scheme for people who deliver frontline services. Crucially, there must be a properly funded police service who are able to catch human traffickers, and a properly funded victim support system which can break the cycle of victimhood.
Public services have for too long been under funded and it does not matter how good the laws and legal provisions are for victims if they cannot be put into practice. In the past, these problems have been carried by charities, but this problem may get even worse with charities either going bust, such as Eaves’ ‘Poppy Project’, or losing funding in the case of Unseen which had to seek government help to keep its helpline open.
Action must be taken
Firstly, there needs to be a better understanding of modern slavery. Secondly, we need to offer victims proper support to try and break the cycle and help the vulnerable. Thirdly, we need to properly finance the frontline services who could come into contact with the human traffickers and the victims.
Although this would not guarantee the eradication of modern slavery, it would be a step in the right direction.