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Church urges night-shelter workers to look out for signs of modern slavery

18 October 2019

Staff and volunteers have been told to be alert to anxiety and fear


A still from the 2019 Australian film Buoyancy, which tells the story of Chakra (Sam Heng), a Cambodian boy who leaves home in search of a better life, but is sold to a Thai labour broker, and enslaved on a trawler. The film is a contender for an Oscar at the 2020 Academy Awards, in the international category

A still from the 2019 Australian film Buoyancy, which tells the story of Chakra (Sam Heng), a Cambodian boy who leaves home in search of a better life...

STAFF and volunteers at night shelters in the UK are being told to look out for signs of modern slavery and raise concerns with the Modern Slavery Helpline.

Hundreds of “Let’s Talk” posters listing the key signs of slavery have been distributed to shelters and soup kitchens by the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative to mark national anti-slavery day, which falls today. The Clewer Initiative was launched in October 2017 to help dioceses to detect modern slavery, and support victims.

Dr Alastair Redfern, a former Bishop of Derby, who chairs the initiative, said: “Time and time again in our work around the country we meet volunteers and project leaders who have encountered modern slavery and have either not recognised it, or not known what to do about it.

“With rising numbers of homeless people on our streets, it is even more important that we are able to recognise the signs. With the Let’s Talk resources we will equip the Church to understand what modern slavery looks like, and how they can respond to protect the vulnerable.”

In the UK in 2018, an estimated 726 people died on the streets, the Office of National Statistics reported earlier this month. This was the highest year-to-year increase (22 per cent) since ONS records began. The average age at death was 45 years for males and 48 for females, which is almost half the average age at death of the general population: 76 years for men, and 81 years for women.

Drug-related deaths of homeless people have more than doubled in the past six years to an estimated 294: a 55 per cent increase. The highest recorded deaths of homeless people were in London (148), and the north-west of England (103).

The chief executive of the West London Mission, Roger Clark, describes the figures as “an absolute scandal. Those that have passed must not be forgotten for who they were, and their legacy must be action.”

The Minister of Notting Hill Methodist Church, the Revd Mike Long, who chairs Shelter’s commission A Vision for Social Housing, said that the deaths were the “tip of the iceberg in terms of the suffering that homelessness causes.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are classed as homeless in Britain today, having to cope with ‘temporary’ accommodation that, in many cases, is harmful to physical and mental health. This makes no economic sense, nor is it morally acceptable.”

The possible signs of modern slavery among homeless people, as listed by the Clewer Initiative, include: “unusual anxiety” about people in positions of authority, and “extreme fear” of being watched; working for little or no pay; working in the most common sectors for modern slavery, such as construction and hand car-washes; not being allowed to leave places of work; and signs of physical abuse or untreated injuries.

A spokesperson for the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), Lys Ford, said that the organisation had become “increasingly aware of the link between modern slavery and homelessness. We are convinced that by sharing more information between organisations we can find victims earlier and stop perpetrators faster.

“The Let’s Talk resources from the Clewer Initiative are a great way to get this message across, and we hope those running winter night-shelters will use them and take action on this issue.”

A new report from the Salvation Army states that the number of British nationals requiring support after being rescued from modern slavery has risen by two-thirds in the past year to a total of 136. Of these, 96 were victims of forced labour, which includes being forced to sell drugs, but also manual labour, such as farm work; 30 were forced into sexual exploitation; and nine were trapped in domestic servitude.

The rise was due in part to county lines — the practice of gangs trafficking drugs into rural areas — the Salvation Army reports. It also reported cases of dealers’ taking over the homes of vulnerable people to use as a base and manipulating the occupiers into working for them.

The Church has released a temporary tattoo — a bar code with the slogan #WeAreNotForSale — that can be purchased and worn around Anti-Slavery Day to raise awareness and money for support services.

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