Joint Committee on Human Rights:

The Salvation Army provides evidence to committee calling for protection of survivors rights.

The Salvation Army’s response to The Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry.

Human Rights of Asylum Seekers in the UK. 

9. Is there any evidence that modern slavery laws are being abused by people “gaming” the system?

The Salvation Army has held the Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC) for England and Wales since July 2011. Alongside twelve partners, we have worked together with over 18,000 survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking in this time. It would be naïve to believe that any law or system is immune to abuse, however, during this time we are yet to see widespread ‘gaming’ of the system. We would urge the government to make available any evidence and data which shows the, currently alleged, systematic abuse of the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).  

Firstly, it is important to clarify that the ultimate decision as to whether an individual should receive support through the NRM is made by the Home Office itself. Notably, the rate of positive Reasonable Grounds (RG) and Conclusive Grounds (CG) decisions in recent years have tended to hover at around 90%. For instance, the most recent quarterly NRM statistics released by the Home Office show that 88% of RG, and 91% of CG decisions, were positive.  A positive RG decision means that the competent authorities suspects but cannot prove that the individual is a victim of modern slavery.

It is correct that the number of people entering support through the NRM is increasing. During the past eleven years, we have seen an increase of over 700% in the number of people entering support through the MSVCC. These rising numbers must not however be read as de facto evidence of gaming of the system. Over the past decade our collective knowledge and understanding of patterns of exploitation has evolved, as has the crime itself. For instance, recognition of ‘County Lines’ cases, and subsequent referrals to the NRM, has seen a quick and sharp increase on the number of those entering the NRM. Home Office statistics show that in 2021, 2,053 cases of County Lines referrals were flagged, these accounted for 16% of all referrals received in the year.

Increased referrals can also point to an improvement of awareness of modern slavery within the UK public and services which encounter potential victims of trafficking. It must also be understood that levels of modern slavery are reflective of other factors and issues within society, both within the UK and globally. The impacts of conflict, economic recession and climate change deepen and entrench the inequalities and vulnerabilities that allow traffickers to thrive.  As these factors worsen, and unless appropriate action is taken, it is likely that we will see a continued growth of trafficking and therefore the number of people identified as victims. Indeed, global estimates for the number of those trapped within modern slavery globally have recently been revised upwards from 40 million people in 2016 to 50 million people in 2021.  Evidence would therefore suggest that the rise in referrals is matching the growing trends of trafficking and modern slavery. Without clear evidence, we must not simply conclude that the system is suffering from widespread ‘gaming’.

To enter the NRM, survivors must first be referred by a designated first responder. The group of first responders in the UK are made up of statutory and non-statutory agencies, this includes bodies such as police forces, UK Border Force (UKBF) and UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI). Once a referral has been made, a RG decision is made by either the Single Competent Authority (SCA) or Immigration Enforcement Competent Authority (IECA), both of which sit within the Home Office. If a potential victim receives a positive RG decision, they enter support through the NRM. It is these same competent authorities who later make a CG decision in regard to each individual’s case.

Alongside their first responding duties, statutory first responders have a duty to notify the Home Office if they have encountered an adult potential victim who has not consented to enter the NRM.  Recent quarterly NRM statistics have shown a notable, recent, rise in the number of Duty to Notify notifications to the NRM. The most recent quarter for instance showed 1160 referrals via the duty to notify process, compared to just 716 in the same quarter last year.  Of the 1160 referrals this past quarter, 66% (n. 766) came from Immigration Enforcement, UK Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration. In Q2 2022, 67.7% (n. 762) of all duty to notify referrals came from the same agencies. This demonstrates that there are large cohorts of potential victims choosing to not enter the NRM after encountering agencies which have immigration focused responsibilities.

Without improvements to the first responder system at the point of entry to the NRM, we risk pushing genuine potential victims away from support and back into positions of vulnerability. The Salvation Army, alongside other organisations in the sector, have regularly called for much needed improvements to the first responder system.  First responder organisations (FROs) have the responsibility for identifying potential victims of modern slavery, gathering information relating to their experiences and referring potential victims into the NRM. It is a vital role, necessary for the proper functioning of the NRM and safeguarding of potential victims. Unfortunately, at present statutory FROs can often act as a hindrance to survivors. Training is not mandatory and is irregular, meaning too many first responders are ill-equipped to carry out their role.

Several improvements must be made to the first responder system, including the introduction of mandatory training. By improving resources and training, the Home Office can ensure that a quality system will be in place to enable the effective identification of potential victims of trafficking. This would mean that those who need to enter support are able to do so efficiently. Continued failure to improve the identification processes at the point of entry to the NRM, risks pushing genuine potential victims away from support and back into positions of vulnerability.

For over a decade, successive governments showed unparalleled commitment to tackling modern slavery and positioned the UK as a world leader in these efforts. We have welcomed this commitment to give support and safety to survivors, and to enable the many victims, who continue to go unidentified in the UK, the opportunity to access this support. But the issues that we have identified above suggest to us that the main problem with the modern slavery system is not widespread ‘gaming’ (of which, we repeat, we have seen no evidence), but the difficulty that many potential victims have in accessing the assessment and support that they need.  

Finally, we wish to state that we are deeply concerned about the Government’s decision to move modern slavery away from the Safeguarding Minister’s remit and to class it as an issue of illegal migration and asylum. Depicting modern slavery as an immigration issue ignores important legal definitions and risks us failing in our legal obligations under treaties such as ECAT.  What is more, discussions of modern slavery as an immigration issue obscure the fact that there are consistently high numbers of British nationals referred into the NRM. Indeed, in the last year, the second most common nationality within the MSVCC was British.

Furthermore, we are concerned that public declarations of widespread abuse will be detrimental to the support available to survivors through a world leading system. It is essential that any survivor, regardless of nationality is able to access support through the NRM on the point of need. Also worrying is the continued conflation between trafficking and smuggling. We note also the letter sent by Ed Humpherson, Director General for Regulation at the Office for Statistics Regulation, to the Home Office raising concerns about the department’s current use of data and the lack of available evidence suggesting that such ‘gaming’ is taking place.  

It is clear that the NRM, and the legal framework surrounding it, need continuous improvement and refining. It is a moral and legal obligation to ensure that those who have experienced exploitation at the hands of traffickers are supported effectively and efficiently. However, we are concerned that the pervading discourse, centred in as yet unevidenced claims of widespread ‘gaming’ of the system, will lead to changes that will limit access to support for survivors of trafficking. This will do nothing to tackle the criminal networks behind the abhorrent crimes of modern slavery and will serve only to punish genuine survivors who need support.

Modern slavery policy

Standing with survivors to put their voices at the heart of policy and practice.

Modern slavery

We have been combatting slavery and supporting survivors of this horrendous crime since our earliest days, but what is modern slavery and how can we spot the signs in our own community?

How we support survivors

Find out how we support survivors of Modern slavery through our Government contract and a wide range of specialist services.

First Responders

Learn more about how victims of modern slavery are identified and referred to get support.