Council referrals for modern day slavery have increased by 70% in the past year and 221% over the past two years, according to the latest National Crime Agency statistics.
Up to 13,000 people may be victims of slavery in the UK according to the government, though this figure may be much more.
Examples include forced labour, sex trafficking, child sex tracking, and the growing instances of ‘county lines’ drug trafficking where children are forced to carry and sell drugs for gangs.
Some 90% of council referrals over the past five years relate to children. The Local Government Association warned that the rapid increase in referrals puts huge pressure on children’s services, housing and adult social care, which all child victims and some adult victims are entitled to.
The LGA is urging the government to meet the £3.1 billion funding shortfall facing children’s services, as well as the £3.6 billion funding gap in adult social care services by 2025.
Simon Blackburn, the LGA's chair of the safer and stronger communities board, said: “Children and young people face specific risks through county lines drug trafficking or child sexual exploitation, and it’s vital that councils have the resources they need to tackle this abuse and support its victims.
“The spiralling rate of council referrals is having a huge impact on council services already at a tipping point, including children’s services and adult social care. Supporting victims and creating a sustainable National Referral Mechanism (NRM) system in the long term will require appropriate levels of funding.
“Modern slavery is a rising threat to our communities. Government needs to use the Spending Review to plug funding gaps facing key council services which can help support victims.”
The government is working on reforming the NRM – the UK’s framework for referring and supporting victims – including increasing the length of time support is provided to adult victims. It is also looking at how to make the system more effective for children and young people.
But the LGA said that these changes will require increased funding for key council services that victims need including housing, children’s services and adult social care. Currently councils do not receive specific funding to support victims of slavery who may have suffered appalling abuse.
Blackburn added: “Councils will not tolerate the exploitation of people in their communities and are committed to tackling modern slavery, which can have a devastating impact on vulnerable people working for little or no pay for ruthless profiteers who threaten or use physical violence.”