Why modern slavery is closer than you think

Modern Slavery UK

We might think of the UK as a relatively ahead of the curve when it comes to basic human rights, but modern slavery really could be happening to someone near you right now. Here’s what you need to know.

It might be hard to picture, but there are thousands of people in the UK right now who are victims of modern slavery.

The idea of being separated from our loved ones and forced into dangerous work is terrifying, and might seem like something more at home in a Hollywood movie, but it’s actually on the rise in the UK.

This is upsetting to hear, but it does mean we can all pull together to be more aware of the signs and help bring potential victims to the attention of the right people.modern slavery UK

What is ‘modern slavery’?

Modern slavery affects over 45 million people around the world – which is about the size of the entire population of Spain. It describes when someone’s forced into work that’s dangerous, degrading, unpaid or generally harms their personal freedom in another way.

Modern slavery covers so many different situations it can be tough to spot. I was surprised that some situations where the person is being paid, or hasn’t been visibly forced into work, can still count.

There are also lots of different types of slavery. For example, victims could be forced to commit crimes, clean other people’s houses, perform sexual acts, traffic drugs or do back-breaking physical labour, usually for the benefit of someone else.

There’s no typical situation or victim either. They can be trafficked from other countries – willingly or unwillingly – or born in the UK.

In the UK

It’s easy to think of modern slavery as something that happens in other places, maybe where wars are happening or things are unstable for other reasons.

Surprisingly, recent data suggests the number of British people identified as modern slavery victims has actually shot up by 72% in the last year, from 1,246 in 2017-18 to 2,143 in 2018-19.

It’s a problem that’s not just affecting our people, it’s also taking place around us, with an estimated 4,000 people living in slavery in the UK – and those are just the ones that we know about.

Who’s most at risk?

Absolutely anyone could be at risk of slavery, whether they’re a doctor from Manchester that’s fallen on hard times or someone who came to the UK to try and build a better life.

It is true that vulnerable people are particularly at risk though. Children, people with mental health issues, or people without a good support network could all be easier targets.

Factors like poverty, war, unstable conditions at home and a lack of access to education can also put someone at increased risk of exploitation.

How can you help?

It can be shocking to think that someone living down the street from you could be a victim of modern slavery – or that even you or someone you love could be at risk.

It’s important to remember though that by realising it can happen where we live and knowing the signs, you could well end up helping someone in need. We’ll look at how to do this in upcoming blogs.

If you have any concerns or need help for someone in the meantime it’s important not to physically step in and try and help – as tempting as it might be – as you could be putting both yourself and the victim at risk.

Instead, report it to the police or call the modern slavery helpline on 0800 0121 700. If you think a child could be at risk, immediately contact the police and your local authority children’s services. You can get more information at modernslavery.co.uk.

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