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At least 7,000 suspected victims of modern slavery were uncovered in Britain last year, up a third on 2017, according to data that campaigners said on Friday raised concerns about the government’s ability to support a growing number of survivors.

A larger share of men – six in 10 of the possible victims – and children – 44 percent – were identified in 2018 compared to the previous year, revealed calculations by the Thomson Reuters Foundation based on data from the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The number of British children referred to the government last year for support more than doubled to 1,419, amid rising concern from police chiefs about the expanding “county lines” drug trade with gangs using teenagers to transport their wares.

People who say they have been enslaved can get counselling, housing, legal aid, and allowance payments during a recovery period under the government’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the scheme whereby victims are identified and given support.

Yet activists say the system is beset by a lack of standards over care and oversight, and long delays in decision making that leave many victims in limbo – and drive some back into slavery.

“There is a concern with the rise in demand for support over whether needs are being properly met,” said Kate Roberts, head of office at the Human Trafficking Foundation. “We need to know that the quality of care is not being negatively affected.”

“The government needs to ensure it is not just identifying people, but providing proper support. We need reforms now.”

Britain’s Home Office (interior ministry) was not immediately available for comment.


The Home Office in 2017 announced several reforms to the NRM, including extra shelter and support, drop-in services and an overhaul of the decision-making and review processes. Read More

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