Victims of modern slavery

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Victims of Modern Slavery in the UK 2022

Sophie Blanchard’s research focuses on the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and her recent MA dissertation project looked at the effectiveness of the NRM in identifying and protecting potential victims of modern slavery. Last year she summarised the 2021 Home Office Report on the NRM, and today she provides a follow-up analysis for 2022.

Sophie Blanchard
Sophie Blanchard, Modern Slavery Partnership Administrator

New statistics have been released by the Home Office, summarising information on people who have been identified as potential victims of modern slavery in the UK in 2022. The term ‘potential victims’ is used to denote that these are the figures relating to individuals referred into the NRM, or via the Duty to Notify process. These figures are likely to be significantly lower once individuals have been through the NRM’s two-tier decision-making process to determine that, on the balance of probabilities, a competent authority believes them to meet the definition of being victims of modern slavery. The statistical bulletin provides a breakdown of the number of potential victims that were referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) or via the Duty to Notify process. It breaks down the data in several ways, including via the victims’ nationalities, gender, type of exploitation they experienced, and whether they were adults or children (here those under 18).

The NRM, which was established in 2009, is the framework used in the UK to identify and support potential victims of modern slavery who have been identified by a set list of First Responders. The Duty to Notify process collects data on adults who do not consent to be referred to the NRM (children are not required to give consent). Combined, these figures give an estimate of the picture of modern slavery in the UK.

How many people have been identified?

In 2022, 16,938 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK were referred to the Home Office, which represents a 33% increase compared to the 12,727 potential victims referred in 2021. The number of potential victims of modern slavery in the UK shows a pattern of yearly increases as illustrated in the table below (apart from a slight decrease in 2020, commonly noted to be a result of the national lockdowns in response to the Covid-19 pandemic):


Number of Referrals




















The number of referrals received in 2022 has been the highest since the NRM began in 2009. However, the increase in referrals does not necessarily correlate with there being more victims but could indicate that First Responders are improving at identifying potential victims. Reports via the Duty to Notify process alone have increased from 3,190 reports in 2021 to 4,580 reports of potential victims in 2022, which indicates a better awareness of this system amongst professionals.

Are the victims adults or children?

Of the potential victims identified 1,065 (6%) were of unknown age, 8,854 (52%) were adults, which has increased from 50% in 2021, and 7,019 (41%) were children. This has shown a 43% increase from the previous year (the minor discrepancy in percentages relating to the rounding of figures to whole numbers). After October 2019, criminal exploitation was set as its own category of exploitation, where previously it was counted within labour exploitation. This made it easier to identify different types of exploitation - referrals indicated that labour exploitation was the most common form of exploitation suffered by adults, while children were more likely to be victims of criminal exploitation. This year’s statistics continue this trend, with these two types still being the most common forms of exploitation for adult and child victims of modern slavery. In 2022, labour exploitation was the most reported form of exploitation amongst adult potential victims with 3,433 cases (39%), whereas child potential victims were most often referred for criminal exploitation with 3,013 cases (43%).

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What gender are the victims?

Of those 16,938 identified in 2022, 13,290 (78%) were male and 3,634 (21%) were female. The remaining 14 are categorised under ‘not specified or unknown’ or ‘other’. The statistics of genders of victims are similar to the previous years, but male potential victims have been increasing in referrals over the years. In 2022, 78% of adult potential victims (6,874) and 80% of child potential victims (5,607) were male, whilst 22% of adult potential victims (1,978) and 20% of child potential victims (1,401) were female. The majority of female potential victims, both adults and children, were victims of sexual exploitation.

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What are the nationalities of the victims?

The most common nationalities of potential victims identified in the UK in 2022 were Albanian, UK and Eritrean. Albanian nationals accounted for 4,613 (27%) of potential victims compared to 20% in 2021, which marks the highest annual volume for this nationality since the NRM was first introduced. UK nationals made up 4,185 (25%) of potential victims referred into the NRM which is a decrease compared to the 31% in 2021. Eritrean nationals made up 1,171 (7%) of potential victims. Though 2022 marks the first year since 2016 that UK nationals were not the most commonly referred nationality to the NRM, it is still the highest number of UK nationals referred since the NRM was first introduced. 2022 was also the first year which does not show Vietnamese nationals (768 cases, 5%) in the 3 most commonly referred nationalities.

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What types of exploitation have the victims experienced?

The data tables which provide the breakdown of information on referrals include a summary of the types of exploitation suffered by those identified as potential victims. These include criminal exploitation, labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude and organ harvesting. The data summarises the number of referrals for each category of exploitation, including where multiple forms of exploitation were experienced. Looking at cases where only one form of exploitation was experienced, the most common form of exploitation identified in 2022 was labour exploitation with 5,135 referrals. In 2021 however, criminal exploitation was the most common form of exploitation identified. In 2022, criminal exploitation made up 4,668 of the referrals and sexual exploitation made up 1,646 of the referrals made. However, a large number of referrals, 1,766 cases, were referred under ‘not specified or unknown’ exploitation which raises concerns over the level of detail provided within the referral forms.

If you have any questions, please contact Sophie (

More information on how the NRM works.

More information on recent changes to policy guidance.

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