Anti-Slavery Day Modern slavery in the UK today

Anti-Slavery Day Modern slavery in the UK today

Modern slavery is closer to you today than you might think. The number of victims of modern slavery has been rising every year and in 2019, over 10,000 identified victims were referred to authorities.1

In quarter 1 of 2020, 2,871 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the National Referral Mechanism2; a 33% increase from the same quarter in 2019. 

The real number of people trapped in slavery is estimated to be much higher than those currently reported. Ongoing campaigns, led by organisations such as Anti-Slavery and Unseen are working hard to not only abolish modern slavery but raise awareness and help people spot the signs. 

The 18th October 2020 is Anti-Slavery Day, an awareness day created by Act of Parliament as an opportunity to raise awareness of modern slavery and to eliminate it.

What is modern slavery?

  • Being forced to work through mental or physical threat.
  • Being owned or controlled by an 'employer', usually through mental or physical abuse or the threat of abuse.
  • Being dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’.
  • Being physically constrained or having restrictions placed on freedoms.

What are the types of slavery?

  • Sexual exploitation.
  • Human trafficking.
  • Debt bondage.
  • Forced labour.
  • Criminal exploitation.
  • Domestic servitude.

How to stop modern day slavery

Poverty, limited opportunities at home, lack of education, unstable social and political conditions and economic imbalances are just some of the key drivers that contribute to someone’s vulnerability in becoming a victim of modern slavery.

Identifying the root causes behind slavery helps us to make changes that will prevent vulnerable people from being targeted and exploited, while outreach programs and support systems provide victims of slavery with an opportunity to escape their situation and build a sustainable future.

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 introduced by Theresa May [former UK Prime Minister] brought existing offences into one law and created new duties and powers to protect victims and prosecute offenders of modern slavery.

Victims of slavery and trafficking who have been forced to break the law were protected under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and law courts were granted the power to hand down a maximum life sentence for offenders or to place restrictions on people they believe may commit a human trafficking or slavery offence.

Businesses with an annual turnover of at least £36 million were also required to publish an annual statement setting out the steps they have taken to prevent modern slavery within their supply chains. This can include information about modern slavery policies and due diligence processes which includes slavery, forced labour and human trafficking.

Since the new law was introduced there has been a considerable increase in tackling modern slavery offences at every stage; the police are referring more cases to be prosecuted, the Crown Prosecution Service is making more decisions to charge and overall, there are more convictions.3

Referrals to the UK's system for identifying and supporting victims of trafficking, the National Referral Mechanism, has increased year-on-year since it was created in 2009. In 2018 6,993 potential victims were referred into the system, increasing from 5,142 in 2017, and 3,804 in 2016.

What else is being done to support victims of modern slavery? 

The collaboration of charitable organisations, service providers, law enforcement agencies, Non-Governmental Organisations, trade unions, lawyers, businesses and government authorities, volunteers and supporters means that tens of thousands of adults and children affected by slavery every year get to gain and keep their freedom, while the systems that trap them are actively changed.


Safehouses for women, men and children provide a refuge and a space where survivors can recover, build confidence and gain independence. 

Safehouses also provide access to a range of services including:

  • Medical care and treatment.
  • Counselling.
  • Legal advice and assistance.
  • Holistic therapy sessions.
  • Education.
  • Financial assistance.
  • Immigration advice.
  • Assistance to return home or to reside in the UK.

Outreach projects

Outreach projects usually encompass resettlement, re-integration and outreach for survivors of modern slavery, working to provide ongoing support, practical and emotional assistance while providing access to many services including:

  • Immigration and asylum assistance.
  • Legal assistance.
  • Emotional, mental and physical health services.
  • Housing and benefit practical support.
  • Budgeting and money management.
  • Education services.
  • Training and volunteering services.

Anti-slavery Partnerships

Anti-slavery partnerships (ASP’s) such as that between the Unseen charity, Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council, work in three main activity areas to support and enable the discovery of and response to incidents of human trafficking, slavery and exploitation:

  • Assist frontline staff to recognise victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
  • Increase intelligence gathering so more victims can be identified and helped, and perpetrators bought to justice.
  • Train and educate frontline staff, local communities, other geographic areas or sectors about trafficking and slavery, with the signs to spot and where to get help.

Modern slavery helplines

In 2016 the Modern Slavery Helpline, an independent, free to call and confidential telephone line, was launched as a means for victims, the public, statutory agencies and businesses to report concerns and get help and advice, on a 24/7 basis. Potential victims are able to speak to fully trained call handlers who can help them access relevant services, including Government-funded support through the National Referral Mechanism.

Statutory agencies are able to call the helpline to gain support in dealing with potential victims and receive guidance in accessing all the information and tools available through the associated resource centre.

Businesses and members of the public and those delivering services on the front-line are able to call for information, advice and also to report any concerns they have about individuals, premises or locations.

How can you help to abolish modern slavery?

If you are concerned for the welfare of a person or group of people, or if you suspect that modern slavery is happening near you, you can report it in many ways:

  • In emergency situations – always contact the police.
  • In the UK you can contact the Modern Slavery helpline anonymously and free of charge from landlines and most mobiles. 0800 0121 700.
  • Report your suspicions online

Do not attempt to let the victim know that you have or are going to report your suspicions and do not confront anyone involved to ensure your own safety and that of the suspected victim. 


1 Home Office. National Referral Mechanism Statistics UK, Quarter 1 2020 – January to March [Internet] April 2020

2 National Referral Mechanism [Internet] September 2020]

3 National Crime Agency [Internet] December 2018