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Protecting British nationals from modern slavery 

Research examining the support for British nationals with experience of modern slavery.

Published: 6th September 2022

This is a research summary of the report: Identifying Pathways to Support British Victims of Modern Slavery, a Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) research project, funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. This research was conducted by Dr Carole Murphy (Bakhita Centre for Research on Slavery, Exploitation and Abuse, St. Mary’s University Twickenham), Dr Alicia Heys (Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull), Dr Craig Barlow (Craig Barlow Consultancy and Training), Louise Gleich (Joint Modern Slavery Policy Unit, Justice and Care & Centre for Social Justice) and Sophie Wilkinson (Bakhita Centre, St. Mary’s University).

The research drew on a review of existing literature about British nationals as potential victims of modern slavery, and a review of legislation and case law to understand how legal processes affect British nationals. A survey was completed by 56 practitioners including professionals from police, criminal justice, local authorities and service provides. Thirty-two semi-structured interviews were undertaken with practitioners from a wide range of geographical areas in England and Wales, and seven in-depth interviews with adult British survivors who had been exploited during childhood.

Key findings:

  1. Prior to and during exploitation, there were multiple missed opportunities by professionals in statutory services to protect vulnerable British nationals and identify them as potential victims of modern slavery. For British nationals who were exploited in criminal activities, criminal justice professionals often treated them as criminals rather than victims.
  2. British nationals who are affected by modern slavery often had complex vulnerabilities and needs, which both increased risk of exploitation, and resulted from exploitation. Common vulnerabilities and needs included mental illness, insecure environments and accommodation, as well as and substance misuse issues.
  3. Where British nationals were identified as potential victims, they often found it difficult to access the specialised support they are entitled to under the UK’s National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for survivors of modern slavery. In part, this was due to confusion among professionals about how the NRM relates to entitlements under other legislative and policy frameworks, such as housing or social care.
  4. Statutory duties to protect British nationals precede and endure beyond the NRM, and support systems need to be better integrated to build recovery pathways for British nationals that develop resilience and reduce the risk of exploitation, informed by survivors as experts by experience.


The full research report identifies a comprehensive set of recommendations that address the issues identified by the evidence. In particular, we highlight the following recommendations which address the findings outlined in this Research Summary:

  1. A public health approach to modern slavery is needed which will prioritise prevention and early identification of British nationals as well as supporting victims. At a national level this requires a review of legislative protections for survivors and reframing the national policy approach away from a primary focus on ‘border protection’ towards prevention, recovery and protection needs of victims including from criminalisation. At a regional/local level these components include community awareness and resilience, multi-agency modern slavery partnerships (with funding and/or staff from Police and Crime Commissioners, police or local authority) and shared operating protocols.
  2. First Responders and other frontline professionals likely to encounter potential victims of modern slavery should receive training specifically addressing the experience of modern slavery for British nationals and how to effectively support them. A national tiered training programme for frontline professionals (across statutory agencies, the criminal justice system and Modern Slavery Victim Care Contract (MSVCC) support providers) should be developed and implemented, similar to those that exist for child safeguarding and based on existing tiered training frameworks.
  3. When a British national adult potential victim has consented to be entered into the NRM, the First Responder should be required to make a referral to the local authority in which the person has been found and/or is living. If they do not consent to the NRM, their consent should nonetheless be sought for a referral to the local authority for assessment of support needs.
  4. British victims must be accommodated in a safe environment appropriate to their specific experiences, contexts, and recovery needs. If the local authority is unable to provide this, it must cooperate with MSVCC service providers to find suitable temporary accommodation.
  5. Psychological and mental health care for survivors requires an integrated approach to care. Funding should be made available automatically to all victims within the MSVCC who are in need of accessing specialist therapeutic services including recovery from substance misuse.
  6. When a suspect in a criminal investigation claims to have been a victim of modern slavery, a safeguarding referral should be made to the local authority alongside an NRM referral. Information sharing between the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and local authority safeguarding departments as well as between the police and CPS must be developed and improved.

This project was funded through an open call for proposals to improve key areas of support for people affected by modern slavery in the UK.