Anti-slavery practitioners are warning that they have seen an increasing number of exploitation cases being reported during the pandemic.
There has been a 37 per cent rise in Nottinghamshire for referrals to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s support system for potential victims – compared with the same period last year.
Practitioners say this is forcing them to work creatively to help support the increasing number of people vulnerable to exploitation whilst perpetrators of this callous crime are evolving new methods of exploitation and ways to launder the proceeds.
Organisations across Nottinghamshire are working together, as part of the Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Modern Slavery Partnership (NNMSP), to raise awareness, share information, and jointly plan ways to identify victims and disrupt criminals. Experts consider this to be the best way for communities to build resilience against modern slavery.
This week marks ten years since the Anti-Slavery Day Act was passed to raise awareness of all forms of slavery, human trafficking and exploitation. Nottinghamshire has made great strides since local leaders signed the Slavery-Free City Pledge in 2017, with partners working together including those from local councils, the police force, and a range of community organisations. Work by the partnership identified increasing levels of child criminal exploitation, whilst labour exploitation is the most common form of modern slavery in Nottinghamshire.
COVID-19 is clearly having devastating impacts everywhere and in relation to modern slavery in Nottinghamshire it is putting even greater pressure on already stretched services, opening up new opportunities for criminals and creating more vulnerabilities for people to become exploited.
John Robinson, Chief Executive of Newark and Sherwood District Council and Chair of the NNMSP, said: “It is disturbing that at a time when so many people are already struggling with the COVID pandemic, some individuals are using it as an opportunity to exploit the most vulnerable.
Modern slavery is on the increase and while it may not be at the forefront of many peoples’ minds right now, it’s important that we remain vigilant and report any concerns. The best way to do this is via the free, independent, and confidential Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 – though if you suspect that someone is at immediate risk of harm you should always dial 999. We must all play our part and protect our whole community from something that, quite frankly, should not exist in our modern day world.
DI Paul Lefford, from the Nottinghamshire Police Modern Slavery team, said: “Locally and nationally there has been significant increases in the number of individuals referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the support system for potential victims of human trafficking and modern slavery. This is a positive reflection of the amount of awareness and training that is being delivered, not just by the police to front line officers, but by all our key partner agencies and the voluntary sector”.
Cllr Neghat Khan, Portfolio Holder for Employment and Community Protection at Nottingham City Council, said: “We have a dedicated team of officers at the council, who work with partners in the city to fight modern slavery. This Council is committed to tackling exploitation and people need to understand that modern slavery can be happening all around us without us being aware, and we don’t see it because we’re not looking for it.
“These victims are real people and they need our help. By working with partners to tackle this issue and by raising awareness with local businesses, we can help those who need us the most.”
Councillor Kay Cutts MBE, Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “Slavery and human trafficking has no place in modern society so it is important that we make a stand and do all we can to ensure we are not supporting this barbaric crime. I echo partners’ calls for people to report any incidents of exploitation taking place in their local community, we all need to keep our eyes and ears open to end this and end it once and for all.”