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FLEX Comment on 2019 National Referral Mechanism Statistics

April 2, 2020

Today, government has announced the statistics for the National Referral Mechanism in 2019.

The NRM is the UK’s framework for identifying and supporting victims of modern slavery offences. The statistics are available online here. They state that in 2019, 10,627 potential victims of modern slavery offences were referred to the NRM, which represents a 52% increase on 2018 levels.

The most common exploitation type was ‘labour exploitation’; FLEX notes that this includes criminal exploitation such as cannabis cultivation or county lines drug running and is not solely limited to legal workplace activities. From October 2019, changes to the NRM system meant that criminal and labour exploitation could be recorded separately which is a welcome change and will aid clarity for both policymakers and those working to tackle modern slavery offences. As this only began in the final quarter, the full year’s disaggregation is not available. However, the government does note that for that final quarter, labour exploitation was the most common type for adults and criminal exploitation (likely to be county lines) was the most common for minors.

FLEX CEO Lucila Granada comments:

“Every referral is good news for people who need to escape exploitation, but we have to recognise that finding people once abuse has taken place isn’t enough. Instead, the government must do more to prevent these harms occurring in the first place.
This is clearly the case given that the most common type of exploitation for adults in the final quarter of 2019 was labour exploitation. Current enforcement of labour standards is woefully inadequate, with our labour inspection agencies severely under-funded and over-stretched. Without ensuring workplaces are run fairly, government will keep seeing victim numbers rise, year on year. Prevention must also include ensuring a strong and effective social protection system to reduce the vulnerability of workers in high-risk sectors. WIthout safety nets, many workers risk falling through the cracks in hard times and ending up in exploitation. 
If the government really cares about tackling modern slavery, it must change the policies that push people into harm’s way.”