THE number of people supported by the Salvation Army after being rescued from slavery has increased five-fold in five years.
In 2011, the charity was contracted by the Government to care for those freed from modern slavery and human trafficking in England and Wales.
In the first year of the programme, 378 people were looked after, but for 2015-16, that number had rocketed to 1800. In total, some 4500 former slaves have been cared for by the Salvation Army since 2011.
The Minister for Safeguarding, Vulnerability, and Countering Extremism, Sarah Newton, said: “Slavery has long been hidden in plain sight, and our policy is designed to encourage more victims to come forward and ask for help.
“We welcome increases in the number of referrals as a sign that our efforts to shine a light on modern slavery are working.”
Figures for the past 12 months show that almost two-thirds (829) of the victims were women. Forty-four per cent had been subjected to sexual exploitation, 42 per cent forced labour, and 13 per cent domestic servitude.
The Salvation Army said that these proportions had remained largely the same throughout the past five years.
The director of anti-trafficking and modern slavery for the charity, Anne Read, said that it was difficult to know the full extent of the problem as it was largely a hidden crime. Defeating slavery needed more than just the Government and NGOs — the public must also get involved, she said.
“To combat modern slavery will require a continuing concerted effort from across society. We need people to keep their eyes and ears open to suspicious activity they encounter in everyday life, such as the nail bar or the car wash, with unbelievably cheap prices.
“In the past year in the UK, demand for support for victims of modern slavery has continued to increase. The Salvation Army’s commitment to fight the scourge of slavery and human trafficking is as strong today as it was more than 150 years ago when our work started in the East End of London.”
When a victim is referred to the Salvation Army, he or she is given safe accommodation and a personalised plan for rehabilitation is drawn up. He or she is also given help to access legal and immigration advice, counselling, and schooling for any children.
In addition, the victims are supported to move eventually into independent housing, and to secure a job or further training.
The most common nationalities among the former slaves helped in the past 12 months were Albanian, Polish, and Nigerian, although there were also 34 British citizens among those rescued. Almost half of all the referrals (45 per cent) came from London or the south-east of England.
Recent estimates suggest that there are about 12,000 people living in modern slavery in the UK, although a report in June from one anti-slavery charity said that the 2015 Modern Slavery Act was the benchmark all countries should aim for (News, 3 June).
In September, companies with a turnover of more than £36 million will have to publish the first of what will become annual statements detailing how they are ensuring there are no slaves in their supply chains, a new requirement of the Act. During the first year of the new law, 289 offences of modern slavery were prosecuted.
In July, the Prime Minister, who introduced the Modern Slavery Act while she was Home Secretary, announced that a further £34 million would be set aside for an anti-slavery taskforce for supporting victims and targeting the routes traffickers use to smuggle people into Britain.