British citizens are for the first time the largest nationality recorded as potential victims in the national trafficking and modern slavery figures.
The latest statistics on modern slavery from the National Crime Agency have revealed the number of potential victims reported to the authorities rose by more than a third last year.
The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) end of year summary showed that in 2017 5145 potential victims were referred into the system - up from 3804 in 2016.
They also revealed that for the first time British citizens were the largest nationality recorded in the figures - up from 326 in 2016 to 819 in 2017.
This is largely down to an increase in minors being referred into the NRM - the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery - as suspected victims of labour or sexual exploitation. This increased to 66% last year.
According to the National Crime Agency, this is due to a rise in ‘County Lines’ gang exploitation referrals, where minors had been exploited by criminals from major cities involved in supplying drugs to rural areas.
Those referred as victims of modern slavery and human trafficking came from 116 different nationalities, with UK, Albanian and Vietnamese nationals remaining the most commonly reported victims.
‘It is our assessment that the increase we are seeing here is driven by an increased awareness and greater reporting of modern slavery and that is to be welcomed,’ NCA director Will Kerr.
‘However, it also adds further evidence to our view that the figures almost certainly represent an underestimate of the true scale of slavery and trafficking in the UK.’
‘Councils will not tolerate the exploitation of people in their communities and are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in society,’ said Cllr Morris Bright, vice chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board.
‘The sad truth is that there is a good chance that modern slavery is taking place in the towns, cities and villages where we live, and our residents may be unwittingly using victims of modern slavery to wash their cars, paint their nails or lay their drives, unaware of the hell they are living through.’
Cllr Bright emphasised that residents played an important part in tackling modern slavery by tipping off the authorities when they saw anything suspicious.
‘A simple phone call could make a world of difference to people living wretched lives at the hands of heartless gangmasters,’ he said.
‘We can all work together to stop criminals profiting from other people’s misery, and councils would urge their residents to do so.’
‘Councils are determined to protect children in their communities, but with essential children’s services expected to experience a £2bn funding gap by 2020, they face real challenges,’ Cllr Bright continued.
‘The LGA has long called for the Government to address this shortfall and adequately resource children’s services, and it is long past time for the Government to do this.’