Modern Slavery – It Still Happens Here Foreword
by The Rt Hon Lord Hague
Most people find it hard to believe that, nearly two hundred years after Britain formally abolished slavery, the terrible crime of holding another human being enslaved is still widespread here. That is because modern slavery is hidden from view, even though it is all around us. Across our country, large numbers of young women have been forced into sexual slavery. Thousands of young men struggling with debt are drawn into forced labour from which they cannot escape. Hundreds of children are growing up never experiencing the freedom the rest of us enjoy. If anyone still doubts the reality of modern slavery, they need to read the harrowing case studies set out in this compelling report – just a few examples of a continuing and unacceptable tragedy.
If this situation was not bleak enough, the Covid-19 crisis is set to make matters worse, intensifying the poverty, lack of opportunities and distraction of society by other issues on which slavery thrives. In these pages we can see very clearly that there are still few prosecutions relative to the scale of the problem. We learn that the true number of people in twenty-first century slavery in the UK might be around 100,000. No civilised country can allow this to continue, let alone deteriorate further.
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 was a landmark piece of legislation, much influenced by the work of the Centre for Social Justice, and provides the framework for intensifying our efforts in the years to come. If we are to vanquish this seemingly permanent blight on our society, the Government will need to build on this ground-breaking Act, emulating the reforming zeal displayed on this issue by Theresa May in her time as Home Secretary and Prime Minister.
This report, by the Modern Slavery Policy Unit, sets out very clearly why that should happen and how it can. Based on extensive work with frontline practitioners, local authorities, police forces, it combines powerful insights into the scale and nature of modern slavery with a clear agenda for what needs to be done next. It finds that a growing number of British citizens suffer trafficking and exploitation alongside so many victims from abroad. It reveals that human traffickers and organised crime groups are operating with impunity in many communities. And it goes on to make a persuasive case for eight recommendations on how to strengthen our fight against such large-scale criminal abuse of vulnerable people.
Those recommendations form the agenda for all who share the intense concern we should all feel that such events can still take place. They range from enshrining survivor rights in law, to transforming police engagement with victims and tackling widespread benefit fraud. The need to tighten key aspects of the 2015 Act and prioritise international co-ordination is well made. Working with other countries to stamp out the trade in people must be a top priority of a globally-engaged Britain.
I pay tribute to the authors of this report for the professionalism of their work. It contains important findings for all of us, from ministers to the public at large. Today, we look back with some pride on campaigners in previous centuries who ended the barbarities of the transatlantic slave trade. If future generations are to regard us in anything like the same light, we still have much work to do.
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