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Covid-19's impact on identification of modern slavery cases in the UK

Policy briefing analysing the impact of the pandemic on modern slavery and the UK's ability to identify potential victims.

Published: 18th March 2021

The Policy Brief is based on an independent analysis of published National Referral Mechanism (NRM) data up to the third quarter of 2020 and interviews with First Responders conducted by a team of researchers based at the University of Liverpool for the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC).

The analysis found that the First Responders’ reduced capacity because of the pandemic and working from home as a consequence of lockdown were significant barriers for staff to building trust with people who potentially experienced modern slavery as effectively as before. This trust is often key for effective referral to the NRM and support services.

The briefing recommends to identify more opportunities in which frontline professionals could come in contact people who might’ve been exploited to identify and support them more effectively. This could include places such as supermarkets, food banks, job centres, homelessness services and health care settings, including Covid-19 testing centres and vaccination spaces.

It also recommends to utilise the UK Government's ‘Ask for ANI’ codeword scheme that is currently in place for victims of domestic abuse and adapt for individuals who may be experiencing modern slavery.

The research also found that the First Responders sometimes paint a different picture than the NRM stats. Whilst confirming some of the trends identified by the NRM stats, the First Responders identified issues and trends that weren’t captured by the official stats, including reporting an increase of people sexually exploited online.

It recommends that the Home Office should publish more granular NRM data, broken down by regions and sub-types of exploitation. More research and analysis is needed to draw more comprehensive conclusions.