Number of potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery reported to the authorities has risen by more than 80 per cent in two years

The number of potential victims of trafficking and modern slavery reported to the authorities has risen by more than 80 per cent in two years, according to figures released by the National Crime Agency today.

The National Referral Mechanism shows that in 2018 6993 potential victims were referred into the system, up from 5142 in 2017, and 3804 in 2016.

Potential victims from 130 different countries were identified, and for the second consecutive year British citizens made up the largest nationality (1,625), with Albanians (947) and Vietnamese (702) second and third.

The number of British citizens reported was almost double the number from 2017, while the numbers of minors referred increased by 48 per cent. Both increases were driven by the numbers referred for labour exploitation, which includes those exploited for criminal purposes by ‘County Lines’ gangs.

Overall those referred in the labour exploitation category made up more than half of the total number.

NCA Deputy Director Roy McComb said:

“The increase is undoubtedly the result of greater awareness, understanding and reporting of modern slavery and that is something to be welcomed.

“However, the more we look the more we find, and it is likely these figures represent only a snapshot of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK.

“Of particular concern is the increase in referrals made for ‘county lines’ type exploitation. These are often vulnerable individuals – often children - who are exploited by criminal gangs for the purposes of drug trafficking.

“Our understanding of the threat is much greater than it was a few years ago, and modern slavery remains a high priority for law enforcement, with around 1,500 criminal investigations currently live in the UK.

“But we cannot stop modern slavery alone, we need support and assistance from across the public and private sectors, NGOs and most of all the public themselves.”

The National Referral Mechanism is a framework for identifying victims of modern slavery or human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. It is also the mechanism through which data is collected about victims, helping to build a clearer picture about the scope of the threat.

Under the existing NRM process potential victims are referred by ‘first responders’, including police, public bodies and a number of specified NGOs to one of two competent authorities, the NCA’s Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Unit for EEA nationals, and the Home Office for non-EEA cases, to make a decision about their status.

From 29 April 2019 this will change when the Home Office becomes the single competent authority for dealing with referrals. This is part of a package of reforms to the NRM announced by the government in October 2017 to improve identification of and support for victims of modern slavery.