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Modern slavery on the increase, Salvation Army reports

24 October 2023

Diocese of Bristol

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, at the report launch on Wednesday

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, at the report launch on Wednesday

MORE than 10,000 people received modern-slavery victim support from the Salvation Army under its government contract last year — the highest in the 12 years since it began. This included more than 3000 new referrals, up by five per cent on the previous year.

The figures are set out in the charity’s annual report Behind the Shield: Protecting and supporting survivors of modern slavery, published on Anti-Slavery Day on Wednesday of last week. It is the 12th year that the Government has contracted the Salvation Army to provide specialist support for adult victims of modern slavery referred from England and Wales.

In that year — between July 2022 and June 2023 — 3533 potential victims contacted the Salvation Army for support: a five-per-cent increase (465 more people) over the previous year. Of the potential victims, one third were women, two-thirds were men, and 1.5 per cent identified as transgender.

The use of the term “potential” means that there is reasonable evidence that the person is a victim, but that this has yet to be confirmed by decision-making bodies in the Home Office, the report explains.

More than 2000 of these potential victims (58 per cent) reported that they had experienced forced labour; 672 (19 per cent), sexual exploitation; 524 (15 per cent), criminal exploitation; 160 (five per cent), domestic servitude; and 116 (three per cent), “complex, multiple, or unknown” exploitation.

Almost one third of the total (more than 1000 potential victims) were Albanian, an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year. The second largest proportion (364) were British. The report identifies a “notable drop” in Romanian (24 per cent fewer) and Jamaican (48 per cent fewer) nationals seeking support, compared with the previous year.

Most people were referred to the Salvation Army services from London (1582), the south-east (418), and north-west (344). Most were referred by the Home Office (1721). Almost all (81 per cent) were aged between 18 and 39, with 19 per cent over the age of 40.

More than 5000 people who entered the service were ruled ineligible under the terms of the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (for example, children or people outside of England and Wales), or because they declined support or were uncontactable, or because more information was needed.

Of the 2787 people who moved on from the service, most moved into the asylum system (670), went to live with family or friends (747), were settled into private accommodation (540), or moved into mainstream or supported accommodation (388).

In total, including people already within the service, 10,702 received support: the largest number in a contract year to date. Since 2011, the Salvation Army and its partners have supported a total of 21,824 recovering survivors of modern slavery. The number of people receiving support each year has risen more than eight-fold, from 378 in the first year to 3533 this year.

The report gives a case study of a British man, James (not his real name), who was exploited through county lines and cuckooing (the use of a person’s home for illegal storage or transactions). He is now living in a Salvation Army safe house, and receiving support to manage his addictions.

He was homeless when the pandemic affected the UK, and found temporary government housing. Shortly afterwards, both his parents died. “I was hit really hard when first my mum and then my dad died. There was a man there, called Tom, who was really supportive to me. . . He was coming round, being my mate, giving me a hug, telling me I’ll be alright. He even said: ‘I’ve been through it myself.’ Much later on, I found out his parents were still alive, and it was all part of the story he was giving me, the lies he was telling.

“He even helped me out with the funeral arrangements, which makes me so angry now. . . He started . . . staying, and then he began to deal drugs from my place, giving me some for myself for free. . . I started owing him for them, and the freebies stopped. He said I’d have to go out and graft for him.”

The director of anti-trafficking and modern slavery for the Salvation Army, Major Kathy Betteridge, said that it had been a “challenging year”.

“The cost-of-living crisis has also placed added pressures on many of the services we rely on to meet survivors’ needs. At the same time, changes have come into force or been made law which will significantly risk the landscape of protections currently afforded to some survivors of modern slavery.”

Earlier this year, the Illegal Migration Bill passed into law (News, 21 July). It had been heavily criticised, by, among others, the Jesuit Refugee Service, which said that it would “strip modern-slavery survivors of protections and empower traffickers”.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, who attended the launch of the report in Westminster Hall last week, said that the figures were “both a stark reminder of the persistent challenges we face in our own community and a testament to the vital role played by dedicated organisations”.

The five-per-cent rise in people who asked for help reflected an urgent need for “comprehensive solutions”, she said. “We must remember to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and defend the rights of those who have less than ourselves. Only through this will solace, restoration, and hope be restored to those who have endured the horrors of modern slavery.”

She pointed to the work of the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative, a continuing project to help dioceses to detect modern slavery and to support victims (News, 20 October 2017), as well as the Bristol-based charity Unseen and Beloved.

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