Modern Slavery in the UK; Let’s talk

My Name is Emily, I am Student Ambassador for It’s A Penalty while also studying Liberal Arts BA at the University of Nottingham. After having completed several of their short online courses as part of my training at It’s A Penalty, I was made deeply aware of the prevalence and the severity of the ongoing problem of modern slavery and how close it is to home. My key takeaways from my time at It’s A Penalty is that we all have a part to play, we can all make a difference, and we can all put an end to modern slavery. 

Slavery. It is often a distant term. It is often thought of historically or when talking about forced labour in large industrial estates in LEDCs. However, what if I told you that it is closer to home than you might think? 

In the UK alone in 2021, more than 130,000 people in the UK are estimated to be trapped in slavery. With 16,938 potential victims referred to the authorities in 2022, and often one-third are British Nationals and just under half of those, children. 

Unfortunately, slavery is not a distant term. Slavery is a growing problem in the United Kingdom. Since the modern slavery act was passed in 2015 there has been a five-times increase of those referred to the relevant authorities. So, in this short blog, I am going to outline why exactly, modern slavery is increasing, and what you can do. 

Currently, in the UK the recent passing of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 removed protections for potential victims of human trafficking as part of efforts to control irregular migration. The UK government defended their actions by highlighting that the previous act allowed for a loophole for criminals and illegal immigrants to remain in the UK. However, the details of the act raise a host of concerns. These include: punishing of delayed disclosure, the merging of modern slavery and immigration adjudication, the narrow definition of ‘victim’ and victims not getting the support they need. 

This is confounded by the fact that there is little evidence to suggest that relevant authorities were being abused by serious criminals as a tool to remain in the United Kingdom. 

The Modern Slavery Act 2015 which was seen as revolutionary when passed, is viewed now as outdated. With the Modern Slavery strategy being over 10 years old, it lacks the necessary provisions to deal with the current crisis that continues to grow. Modern Slavery is low on the government’s priority list. With no hard commitment to revise the strategy published in 2014. If you are a keen reader of the news, it is clear a key priority for the UK government is stopping the ‘small boats’ crisis.

However, human trafficking is intrinsically linked to migration. Yet the lack of protections under the new act could potentially make it harder for the relevant authorities to identify and support victims. In fact, in a recent report issued by the Home Affairs Committee, Rob Jones CBE a director at the NCA, disclosed that ‘human trafficking and modern slavery is not the “highest priority”.’ 

The UK government is not placing the necessary protections to tackle this rise in modern slavery. Trafficking is often caused by economic, social and cultural factors. Often displacement of populations due to ‘push’ factors of migration. These include conflict, political instability, civil unrest, war and natural disasters, which all create more opportunities for traffickers to exploit vulnerable groups. 

With the War in Ukraine, conflict in Gaza and Palestine and an increase in natural disasters from 233 in 1996 to 423 in 2022, the current climate is creating more opportunities for human trafficking to arise. This makes it even more crucial that governments have the necessary protections in place to protect victims and prioritise prevention strategies. 

So what can you do?

Firstly, educate. 

Education is powerful. Reading the news and finding charities that provide clear information about modern slavery to understand what is going on. 


Campaign. Whether that is signing a petition, reposting on socials or joining a charity. It is never more crucial than ever to join the effort to raise awareness around modern slavery. 


Spread the word. Tell your friends, to get the word SLAVERY back into the conversation. It is no longer something that is a distant topic in history textbooks, or an issue that is on another continent that seems so far from home you can’t have an impact. It’s here in the UK and you can make an impact. 


Learn how to spot it. Understanding key indicators such as an individual seeming fearful, under control or having been denied food, water or medical care, are simple ways that you can help refer a victim to necessary authorities. For more information on these click here.

Ultimately, Modern Slavery needs to come back into the conversation. That conversation starts with you. 

For more information, visit It’s A Penalty. A charity aiming to end modern slavery. 

Want to become part of the mission against modern slavery? It’s A Penalty offer a Student Ambassador Programme that is a highly flexible and impactful volunteering opportunity. The programme offers core and comprehensive regular training, equipping you with the skills and knowledge to campaign on their behalf, through completing a range of challenges. If you want to find out more, head to their website or check your Student Union’s volunteering opportunities page. 

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Written by Emily Woollerson

It’s a Penalty Student Ambassador