There were more referrals to the National Referral Mechanism regarding modern slavery for children than adults for the first time between April and June, government statistics have shown.
In the second quarter of 2020, the NRM received 2,209 referrals of potential victims of modern slavery. This represents a 23% decrease in referrals compared to the preceding quarter (2,865) and a 5% decrease from quarter 2 in 2019 (2,314).
The decrease in these quarters is understood to be influenced by the effects of restrictions implemented in the UK as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, for the first time, more referrals were received for child potential victims than adults. Just over a third (843) of the NRM referrals were for potential victims who claimed exploitation as adults (compared to 52% in the preceding quarter), whilst 58% (1,274) claimed exploitation as children. The age group at exploitation was unknown in 4% of cases (92).
“The number of quarterly NRM referrals for both adults and children has increased at a similar rate from 2014 to 2019. There has been a decrease in both adult and child referrals in the first quarter of 2020, though child referrals have since increased again in quarter 2, whilst adult referrals have continued to decrease,” said the report.
Modern slavery is a term that includes any form of human trafficking, slavery, servitude or forced labour, as set out in the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Potential victims of modern slavery in the UK that come to the attention of authorised ‘First Responder’ organisations are referred to the National Referral Mechanism. Authorised ‘First Responder’ organisations include local authorities, specified non-governmental organisations, police forces and specified government agencies.
The report highlighted that for adult potential victims, 63% (533) were male and 37% (309) were female, whilst for child potential victims, 78% (990) were male and 22% (277) were female.
The report stated:
- 41% were referred for criminal exploitation only
- 16% had been referred for criminal exploitation and other exploitation types.
- 7% were exploited for sexual exploitation
- 6% of referrals were for sexual exploitation in combination with other exploitation types.
For adult potential victims, labour exploitation was most commonly reported whereas for child potential victims, criminal exploitation was most common. For those exploited as children, criminal exploitation is partially driven by an increase in the identification of ‘county lines’ cases.
In quarter 2, there were 409 referrals flagged as county lines referrals, accounting for 19% of all referrals received in the quarter. The majority - 85% - of these referrals were made for male children. The overall number of county lines referrals for all age groups more than doubled from 199 to 409.
Iryna Pona, Policy Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “We saw through our frontline services how criminals continued to cynically groom and exploit vulnerable children to traffic drugs during lockdown.
“They adapted their methods where necessary and took advantage of a situation in which many children were out of view of teachers, social workers and youth workers – meaning that even these shocking figures may be just the tip of the iceberg. Our research has also found that awareness of the NRM among professionals is patchy.
“Even when children are assessed to be victims of child criminal exploitation, the support they receive remains inconsistent and often insufficient and too many children are not identified until exploitation is deeply engrained in their lives.
“It’s vital that all vulnerable children who are not yet in school, or in the event of future school closures, have access to a named trusted professional who can help ensure they are getting the support they need and identify any risks they may be facing.
“The government should introduce a national strategy to tackle child criminal exploitation, define it in law and help end the postcode lottery when it comes to identifying children at risk of exploitation and offering support early,” she added.
When referred to the NRM, the Single Competent Authority (SCA) within the Home Office makes a ‘reasonable grounds’ decision on whether an individual could be a victim of modern slavery. The SCA made 2,284 reasonable grounds decisions in quarter 2, although these decisions could have been made on referrals received in previous quarters. Of these decisions, overall 94% (2,142) were positive and 6% (142) were negative. The proportion of positive reasonable grounds decisions was slightly higher for child potential victims (96%) than adults (91%).
In quarter 2, the SCA made 840 conclusive grounds decisions, an increase from 718 made in the previous quarter. Of the decisions made this quarter, 89% were positive and 11% were negative. The proportion of positive conclusive grounds decisions was higher for child potential victims (94%) than adults (84%).
Modern Slavery: National Referral Mechanism and Duty to Notify Statistics UK, Quarter 2 2020 – April to June