Modern slavery 'affecting every UK town and city'

Over 300 police operations linked to tens of thousands of victims are underway, says the National Crime Agency

A sex worker in Bradford's red light district
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Slavery is happening now in every major urban centre in the UK, according to a new report by the National Crime Agency.

More than 300 police investigations are under way, dealing with "tens of thousands of victims" of modern slavery across the country, the report says. It warns that estimates of 10,000 to 13,000 victims in the UK are the "tip of the iceberg", and says the problem affects "every large town and city in the country".

A surge in operations focusing on labour and sexual exploitation over the past three months has uncovered a wide range of cases, says The Guardian, "ranging from a Romanian organised crime gang making €5m (£4.5m) from advertising prostitutes online and laundering the proceeds, to a 12-year-old girl being trafficked into the UK to take children to school".

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There were 111 modern slavery arrests in the UK in May and June - and another 40 in Europe.

Most victims come from Eastern Europe, Vietnam and Nigeria. About half are women and half men.

"The more that we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable," said the National Crime Agency's Will Kerr. "The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought."

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Among better-publicised modern slavery victims are people forcibly kept prisoner to work in brothels as sex workers. But Kerr also highlighted those working at car washes and in construction, agriculture and food processing who receive very little pay and are forced to put up with poor living conditions.

Yesterday, the independent anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland criticised the NCA in the London Evening Standard for not taking human trafficking seriously enough - and for allowing important information about modern slavery offences to "sit dormant" on databases.

Labour's shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, also blamed the government for what she called "a national disgrace", adding that Home Secretary Amber Rudd has "serious questions to answer".

As part of a new advertising campaign to raise awareness of modern slavery, the NCA is asking the public to look out for visible injuries and signs that victims are being controlled.

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