Each year the National Crime Agency releases an annual report of the statistics from the National Referral Mechanism, the government-funded system of support for victims of modern slavery, more commonly called the NRM.
This report usually garners media interest, and is generally used as a barometer for measuring how action against human trafficking is going in the UK. We’ve dug into the data to look beyond the headlines, and see what other stories are hiding in the statistics.
Are there more victims?
The media frenzy usually centres round the figure of the number of potential victims submitted to the NRM in that year. The total number of referrals has increased year on year each time the report has been compiled. In 2018 it was 6993, in 2017 it was 5145, in 2016 it was 3,804. This year’s figure is a 36% increase on the 2017 total. What has led to this increase? Are there more victims to be found, or are we just better at finding them? It’s more likely to be the latter. As public understanding of modern slavery has increased, so naturally will referrals. The same goes for increased awareness levels within the police and statutory agencies. Additionally people who may previously have been treated as offenders – for example young people groomed and forced to sell drugs, commonly known as county lines – are now treated as victims. The increase in county lines activity is noted in the report as the key factor in driving the increase in referrals.
So have all these people been exploited in the UK?
To receive support from the government, you don’t need to have been exploited here. The report notes that “in 2018, 1,986 (28%) of referrals reported that the location of exploitation was overseas only.” It is to the credit of the government that their support does not rely on proving exploitation in the UK. However, these statistics are often used to talk exclusively about exploitation in the UK, not elsewhere in the world, so it is worth noting this in any analysis of the report.
How many people are ‘officially’ victims of modern slavery?
This report counts ‘potential’ victims of modern slavery. They are people who have been initially identified as victims, but they may have not yet received an official status from the government about whether or not they are confirmed by the state to be a victim. This process has two stages, and the result is determined by one of two ‘competent authorities’.
In Annex G of the report, we can see the decision status of the total numbers of exploited people. Of those 6,993 potential victims found in 2018 a staggering 3,706, over 50% of the potential victims, have still not received a conclusive grounds decision. The vast majority of these cases – 3,007 – are non-UK and non-EU nationals, whose decisions are looked after by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).
This raises a few questions. Firstly why are UKVI experiencing such a backlog when the other competent authority (the NCA’s Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking Unit) are not? Secondly, what is happening to all of these victims who are waiting for their status to be confirmed?
We have heard from organisations supporting survivors that it is traumatic for their clients to have to wait a long time for a decision. The feeling of being in limbo, and in another situation that is outside their control, makes it difficult for them to begin the healing process. The report does not disclose how long the average person is kept waiting, but any delay could be detrimental to their recovery.
It is interesting to contrast and compare these statistics to previous years and note trends and changes, but at the end of the day it is important to remember that each number is a real person, who has no doubt gone through a traumatic experience, whether or not they meet the criteria of an ‘official’ victim of modern slavery. We pray that each person represented by these statistics would find safety and healing.