Public authorities in the England and Wales have a statutory duty to notify the Home Office when they come across potential victims of modern slavery (section 52, Modern Slavery Act 2015). This duty is considered performed when the potential victim is referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – a framework for identifying and supporting modern slavery victims in the UK – or when the Home Office is notified directly via the Duty to Notify process (Home Office, 2022). These referrals are subsequently analysed and generate key insights into the latest potential victim demographics and case outcomes, which relevant authorities could use to inform their policies and activities. Focusing on referrals to the NRM with regard to Greater Manchester in the first quarter of 2022, this blog post provides an initial overview of key insights.
Gender, age and type of exploitation
Of the 135 NRM referrals in Greater Manchester in the first quarter of 2022, 24% were for women and 76% were for men. In recent years, the largest portion of potential victims in Greater Manchester had been male minors – consistently accounting for more than a third of all referrals. For the first time since 2018, however, the majority of referrals in the first quarter of 2022 were for male adults (38%). This development will be reflected in demand for support services (e.g., accommodation support for this demographic group will have to be increased). The largest proportion of adult potential victims were referred for criminal exploitation. This presents yet another deviation from the overall trend in which adults in Greater Manchester are most likely to be referred for labour exploitation.
Women are most often referred to the NRM for sexual exploitation. In the first quarter of 2022, 33% of referred women were potential victims of sexual exploitation. This presents a significant decrease from the preceding quarter and the general trend. The proportion of criminally exploited women, on the other hand, has increased significantly from previous years. Whereas previous quarters indicate that on average 8% of female potential victims are referred for criminal exploitation, 15% of referred women had potentially been criminally exploited in the first quarter of 2022.
Noting that criminal exploitation is becoming increasingly prevalent, it is essential that all stakeholders improve their knowledge of protection schemes focused on this form of modern slavery, including S.45 of the Modern Slavery Act.
Of all people referred to the NRM in Greater Manchester in the first quarter of 2022, the largest group (33%) had a UK nationality. The second largest group were Albanian nationals (20%), followed by the Pakistani (5%) and Vietnamese (4%). The majority of referred UK nationals were minors (77%). Of referred Albanian nationals, minors represented only 11%.
Of people referred for criminal exploitation, just over half of the potential victims (51%) were UK minors. This is a decrease compared to previous quarters. The statistics suggest that the share of adults referred to the NRM in Greater Manchester modern slavery is increasing.
Noting the shift towards more adult referrals and fewer referrals of minors, authorities may consider whether there are young people who are being missed and additionally whether the current services available to support adult victims of modern slavery are sufficient to cope with increasing numbers.
Conclusive grounds decision
Having been referred to the NRM, the Home Office will review an individual’s case and reach a ‘reasonable grounds’ decision on whether the individual could be recognised as a modern slavery victim. If the Home Office’s decision is positive, adults are eligible to receive support (i.e., accommodation, subsistence, legal aid and counselling) for a period of at least 45 days (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services [‘HMICFRS’], 2017) . While potential victims receive support, a final decision, called a ‘conclusive grounds’ decision, is reached on whether the individual could officially be identified as a victim. Such a ‘conclusive grounds’ decision ought to be made within the 45-day period, but on average people wait 14 months to receive a decision on their status. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Sara Thornton (2021), has recognised this trend on a national level and has acknowledged that such a prolonged waiting time has pernicious effects on individuals. Potential victims remain in a state of limbo for months, preventing them (and support services) from making appropriate long-term arrangements.
Furthermore, the waiting time for people who possess an EU or UK nationality is significantly shorter than for those who do not. This has led Walby et al. (2016) to beg the question of whether the UK is engaging in indirect racial discrimination. As above, the most common nationality outside the UK in Greater Manchester is Albanian. On average, Albanian citizens wait 589 days to receive their ‘conclusive grounds’ decision – which is 11 months longer than UK nationals. This is specifically poignant as an extended waiting period is especially detrimental for non-UK nationals – it jeopardises their recovery and puts them at particular risk of re-trafficking. In addition to the influence nationality has on waiting periods, statistics also demonstrate that UK nationals are more likely to receive a positive conclusive grounds decision, than potential victims of other nationalities.
The long waiting periods and apparent unequal treatment may discourage potential modern slavery victims from accepting referral to the NRM as well as impacting on potential victims’ mental health, ability to access services, financial situation and ability to reunite with family.
Many non-governmental organisations (NGO) play a key role in anti-slavery work in the UK, and the partnership in Greater Manchester has been praised by HMICFRS (2017) as an example of good practice. Overall trends place Greater Manchester at the tenth highest in the percentage of NRM referrals from NGOs. However, in the first quarter of 2022 only 4% of referrals came from NGO first responders. Noting this change in engagement, organisations may wish to consider what the driving factors are – whether it is a result of changes in engagement between NGOs and potential victims or NGOs and GMP.