The British government is failing in its efforts to crack down on modern slavery in the UK because its understanding of human trafficking is not sufficient enough to effectively counter the crime, an independent Parliamentary scrutiny body has warned.
After analysing the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), a framework put in place in 2009 to identify victims of modern slavery and refer them to the appropriate support services, the National Audit Office (NAO) discovered a high number of errors that it claims would make it difficult for authorities to grasp the true scale of the problem across the country.
The unreliable nature of the information on the NRM means the government has an incomplete picture of both victims and perpetrators of the crime, the NAO said, adding that victim aftercare is poor, and that few recorded cases of modern slavery result in alleged offenders facing prosecution.
Commenting on the body’s findings, Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The campaign to drive out modern slavery is in the early stages.
“So far it is helping to establish the scale and international nature of this issue.
“To combat modern slavery successfully, however, government will need to build much stronger information and understanding of perpetrators and victims than it has now.”
Responding to the NAO’s findings, a Home Office spokesperson said the government had made significant progress in the way it deals with modern slavery in a number of areas since the body carried out its assessment, noting that recently-announced changes to the NRM will make “substantial improvements to a system which is supporting more victims than ever before”.
The NAO’s analysis chimes with an October report from the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, which found police forces across the country are failing to deal with the perpetrators of human trafficking offences or adequately protect victims of the crime.
The inspectorate found police took an inconsistent and ineffective approach to identifying modern slavery victims, leaving perpetrators free operate with near impunity without fear of being brought to justice.
Writing for the Telegraph in July 2016, British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that her government would lead the global fight against modern slavery, having previously overseen the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act when she was Home Secretary.
In August last year, the National Crime Agency, the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, said that while the government identified 3,800 victims of modern slavery in 2016, the true figure was likely in the tens of thousands.
“The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone had previously thought,” NCA Director of Vulnerabilities Will Kerr said.
The intelligence we are gaining is showing that there are likely to be far more victims out there, and the numbers of victims in the UK has been underestimated.”