Almost 30 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to UK police forces every day on average during the first nine months of 2020.
Home Office figures show 7,576 potential slavery and trafficking victims were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s apparatus for identifying and supporting victims – between January and September last year.
That is the equivalent of 28 every day and was an increase of 4.2 per cent on the same period in 2019 – despite fears, the coronavirus pandemic could push slavery networks and their victims further underground.
Almost half the 2020 referrals (3,654) concerned children aged 17 or under, or adults exploited as children.
But charities say the NRM figures are an underestimate of the true extent of slavery in the UK, as adults need to consent to a referral.
It also relies on designated first responders such as police and councils being aware of the programme and how to refer victims – something the Human Trafficking Foundation says is lacking.