Christian Guy is Chief Executive of the anti-slavery organisation Justice and Care. He was formerly a Special Adviser to David Cameron in 10 Downing Street, and a Chief Executive of the Centre for Social Justice.
Daniel grew up in Swansea but became homeless at 16 when he fell out with his Mum. He struggled with mental health and a learning disability. Soon after, a local family of traffickers took Daniel and forced him to work on a scrap yard without pay.
He was beaten and abused so brutally by slave masters that when he was eventually rescued by police, the nurse who cared for him said he had the worst injuries she had ever seen. “He looked like somebody from a concentration camp”, she concluded.
A new report from Justice and Care and the Centre for Social Justice finds there are at least 100,000 slaves like Daniel in Britain today, based on access to new police data. Experts admit it is likely even higher. But we find very few of them: the largest estimate any UK Government had previously made was just 13,000.
When the 13,000 victims estimate was made the Government also calculated slavery’s annual social and economic cost at £3-4 billion, likely well-short of the true figure. And with British nationals the largest group of victims found, this cannot simply be dismissed as a UK Border problem.
What it can become is a mission for this Government, which has rightly put law, order and tackling hidden harms high on its to-do list. For example, last year more than 10,000 potential slaves were found here, but only 219 people were convicted for slavery-related offences. Criminals setting up in the human trafficking trade consider Britain a low-risk place to do business in 2020.
Yet one principle would turn that on its head: start to care for the abused properly, and they will help dismantle the organised crime groups running riot. Victims are key witnesses and many want justice. They are our greatest asset. Yet just as we fail to send most traffickers to prison, we leave too many victims alone, destitute and easily re-trafficked. This is a moral mistake and a strategic error.
Some view victim care as a soft option. This is wrong and delights traffickers. Woeful support has victims running a mile or stuck in silence. However, get those things right and they often talk. This is something my charity sees on a daily basis. Our pilot Victim Navigator initiative is already proving it: 88 per cent of the victims that Justice and Care supported in the first year of the programme are engaging with police and giving vital evidence that would otherwise have been lost. Cases police would have closed are now heading towards prosecution.
Today’s report, It Still Happens Here, also calls for longer-term support for victims – backing Iain Duncan Smith and Lord McColl’s Bill due back in Parliament soon. We argue that for victims cooperating with police investigations or prosecutions beyond the 12 months the Bill would help them for, we should issue US-style ‘Trafficking Visas’. They provide a lifeline for victims helping to get justice done (in America they never reach their annual cap).
Yet good care does not mean everyone stays in the UK. We also call for fast-track repatriation schemes for those who want to return home. Working with charities and other Governments we should be helping people home within 72 hours if they want to. With support when they return and bodies like the EU taking more responsibility, we could close the re-trafficking revolving door and take their evidence on video links if cases move forward. This is the Zoom era – we need to innovate. Let’s treat victims with decency and respect and watch our conviction rates rocket.
Other recommendations focus on ending the benefit fraud traffickers manage on an industrial scale. We found many cases, but one struck me in particular: 70 people were registered for benefits using the same mobile phone number and nobody at the JobCentre noticed. We even heard about abuse of the Treasury’s Furlough scheme, with traffickers claiming payments for victims they were forcing into other lockdown abuse when car washes and nail bars closed.
And on the subject of businesses, action must be taken in two urgent ways.
First, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority has to deal more effectively with exploitative UK workplaces such as the one we read about in Leicester. Not only are they illegal, they risk undermining our COVID recovery.
Second, we have to get tougher on international supply chains – thousands of businesses either continue to ignore the Modern Slavery Act’s requirement to root it out, or they lie in their statements with no follow-up scrutiny. This must be dealt with – fines, Director disqualification or even criminal charges included.
Finally, nearly 60 per cent of people we polled do not know what to do when they spot potential slavery. This is a problem. The police rely on local people being ‘eyes and ears’, and indeed it was a worried member of the public who reported Daniel’s condition when they caught a glimpse of it.
So, from the top down it is time for us to make good on our commitment ‘to lead the world’ in the fight against the ownership of one human being by another. People like Daniel are counting on us.