The research found that despite having been in contact with people who were being exploited in modern slavery or at risk from it, authorities miss many opportunities to identify potential British victims and prevent their further exploitation. Authorities identified as most commonly missing the signs include professionals from social services, NHS, education, mental health services and the criminal justice system.
It points to contextual and societal factors that contribute to British nationals becoming vulnerable to being exploited. A lack of support to access safe housing, family support, mental health, and substance misuse increased vulnerability to exploitation.
These issues, coupled with misunderstandings about modern slavery and the fact that British nationals are commonly exploited in criminal activities, mean that professionals from statutory agencies who come into contact with them often find it difficult to spot the signs of exploitation, which results in them being treated them as criminals rather than victims.
Police, prosecutors and other criminal justice professionals find it particularly difficult to differentiate between those who commit crimes of their own volition from those who are forced to do so by their exploiters, often resulting in criminalisation, according to the report.
It also found that British citizens who get identified by authorities as potential victims of modern slavery often find it difficult to access specialised support, facing “a cycle of closed doors”.
As British nationals have recourse to public funds and access to social support, support professionals were often confused about their entitlements. This resulted in referrals to local authorities rather than being signposted to specialised services through the NRM.
The report recommends implementing a public health approach to modern slavery to prioritise prevention and early identification of British nationals, including reviewing legislative protections for survivors. At regional and local levels, the report proposes implementing community awareness and resilience programmes and developing multi-agency modern slavery partnerships.
It advises providing training to frontline professionals likely to encounter potential victims of modern slavery, specifically addressing the experience of modern slavery for British nationals.
It also recommends integrating the approach to supporting people who experienced modern slavery, including improved communication between services provided through the NRM and local authorities, as well as the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in cases of criminal exploitation.
Liz Williams, Policy Impact Manager at the Modern Slavery PEC, which commissioned the study, said: “All people who are exploited in modern slavery deserve specialised support to safely recover from their experience.
“We need to build a system and policies that can identify and respond to specific challenges and vulnerabilities faced by people who experience modern slavery. That includes designing support services that understand British nationals’ specific rights and circumstances informed by evidence provided by this and other research.”
Read the full report here.