Ask the nearest UK school pupil about slavery and the chances are that they will tell you it was abolished in the UK in the 19th century. However, a new report from the Salvation Army has shown that slavery may have been abolished, but it has not gone away.
The problem has been recognised by the Government, which brought in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 – a law seen through Parliament by the then Home Secretary Theresa May. Last month, as Prime Minister, May announced the formation of a Cabinet Taskforce which will work to bring an end to modern slavery. It will be funded from the overseas aid budget – taking resources away from people at risk of being subjected to slavery to save them from slavery, so to speak.
The Modern Slavery Act broke new ground in that it recognised that waging a war against slavery would need the “slaves” to act as prosecution witnesses. The Act therefore included a measure to allow released slaves to stay in the UK for 45 days – a time widely regarded as far too short, though extensions are sometimes possible. The released slaves are supported after their release – and the Salvation Army has the contract to provide these support services.
The Salvation Army first supported victims of slavery in July 2011. In the following twelve months, 378 people were referred to the organisation for support. In the last twelve months, April 2015 to March 2016, 1,805 people were referred to the Salvation Army for support – a fivefold increase which is being attributed to the Act beginning to work. Overall, however, the Home Office estimates that there are between 10,000 and 13,000 slaves in the UK – and up to 45 million across the world. Only 289 prosecutions were brought in the first year of the Act.
Thanks to its work in supporting victims, the Salvation Army has been able to reveal that just under half of the victims referred to it are the victims of sexual exploitation. The other half have been exploited at work – either in industries which rely on seasonal work and want to pay low wages, or as domestic workers. Around 40% of victims referred to the Salvation Army are from London and the South East.
Most of the victims referred come from Albania, with the second highest number coming from Poland – closely followed by Nigeria, Vietnam and Romania.