Anti-slavery plan could fail due to poor understanding of victims

The Government’s anti-slavery strategy will fail unless it gains a more complete picture of the crime and its impacts, a damning report has warned.

Dec 15, 2017

The Government’s anti-slavery strategy will fail unless it gains a more complete picture of the crime and its impacts, a damning report has warned. The National Audit Office (NAO) found that despite the “important foundations” laid by the Modern Slavery Act, the Home Office has limited means for tracking any progress being made. Data held by the Government does not let it properly understand the perpetrators and victims, and the oversight of victim support remains poor with few cases leading to prosecution. NAO comptroller and auditor general Sir Amyas Morse claims the Government still has “much more to do to ensure victims of modern slavery are identified, protected and supported effectively”. Sir Amyas said: “The campaign to drive out modern slavery is in the early stages. So far it is helping to establish the scale and international nature of this issue. “To combat modern slavery successfully, however, government will need to build much stronger information and understanding of perpetrators and victims than it has now.” The Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2014 as part of a government attempt to “consign slavery to the history books”. Since then, the number of adults referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) has risen 51 per cent to more than 2,500. The number of modern slavery crimes recorded has increased from 870 to 2,255 between 2015/16 and 2016/17. However, this increase is probably due to new crime counting rules relating to NRM referrals. The NAO report, published on Friday (December 15), found the Home Office has not set out methods for measuring any reduction in the prevalence of slavery or how it will account for increased reporting. The Government also does not know how much is being spent on addressing modern slavery, how effectively its money is being used, or whether the increase in NRM referrals is due to growing awareness of the crime. The review uncovered a number of errors and duplicate entries in NRM referrals, which it claims has complicated the true understanding of modern slavery. It also criticised the lengthy delays in deciding whether referees are actually victims – often longer than 90 days – as they can lead to further distress and anxiety. The Home Office was accused of failing to put in a sufficiently robust inspection regime to monitor care standards in safe houses used by potential victims, and not continuing to collect information once they leave support. The NAO also found the police approach to tackling modern slavery varies across the country and few successful convictions have been secured. Although three forces have made more than 900 NRM referrals since 2009, another six have referred just ten potential adult victims in the same period. Just 80 defendants were prosecuted under modern slavery laws for a total of 155 offences. However, the NAO recognised the length of these cases means it will likely be some time before the number of prosecutions increases. Responding to the report, independent anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland said: “I have consistently called for a professional response to this crime, not only across government, but indeed from all relevant sectors. “Significant progress has been made in recent years to enhance the response to modern slavery, which established the UK as a world leader in the fight against modern slavery. “However, there is much more to be done and by taking up the recommendations of this report I am confident we will move forward in that position of global leadership.” A Home Office spokesperson said: “Modern slavery is a barbaric crime that destroys the lives of victims across the globe. “We welcome the National Audit Office’s recognition of the work we have done to identify the issue and put in place the ambitious Modern Slavery Strategy and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 – the first legislation of its kind in the world.”

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