The Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Policing & Crime have answered calls from NGOs to outline their plans to strengthen London’s response to human trafficking, after a staggering 260% increase in the number of victim referrals in the capital.

Sophie Linden, the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, will join more than 250 councillors, statutory safeguarding leads, police, and other key stakeholders from all 32 London Boroughs to discuss improved strategies to tackle human trafficking.

The Human Trafficking Foundation, Shiva Foundation and ECPAT UK have coordinated a conference, opened by the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, on 10 May 2017 from 9:00am to 3:30pm in Chamber, City Hall. Despite having new statutory duties under the Modern Slavery Act and the Care Acts, local councils are struggling to provide adequate support with minimal resources. The event seeks to establish a Slavery Champion or Single Point of Contact in every local council, a key first step in turning this state of affairs around.

Alarming data

  • In 2015, 278 referrals of potential human trafficking cases were reported to the Met police. In 2016 this figure jumped to over 1,000. This is a 260% increase.

  • Very few of these referrals come from local authorities, indicating a lack of knowledge or pathways in place to adequately report cases. New data reveals that London councils identified an average of less than 4 trafficked adults or children a year. 10 London boroughs failed to identify any cases of child trafficking in data collected by ECPAT UK in 2015.

Worrying treatment of victims by statutory authorities

  • Councils in London often fail to identify victims of trafficking and, even when they do, regularly fail to provide adequate accommodation or support.  Many are also failing to prevent children going missing from care.

  • Adult victims are also going missing as a result of not being seen as a priority and so are at risk of being re-trafficked when they leave Government-funded safe houses. A Human Trafficking Foundation report on female survivors leaving a safe house in London found that a quarter of victims went missing often under suspicious circumstances.

  • Trends for British children being trafficked for sexual exploitation and groomed by adults to traffic drugs across ‘county lines’ are less well understood and can result in vulnerable British children being criminalised rather than identified as victims of trafficking.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: 

“This is a crime that we can only solve by working together. Modern slavery touches on the work of so many sectors across London and nationally. In light of this, my Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, has established a London Modern Slavery Steering Group which will meet for the first time this summer. This group will draw together senior leaders across sectors to get a grip of what the scale of the issue is in London and to set the strategic direction for the future. This, along with our explicit commitments on modern slavery in the police and crime plan, ensures that issue continues to be given the level of priority it requires… [E]vents [like this conference] are in themselves key elements in raising the profile of modern slavery and of showing our united front.”

Bharti Patel, ECPAT UK, said: 

“Too often signs that children have been exploited are not identified, due to a lack of training for professionals. It is also the case that many children who are suspected or known to have been trafficked go missing from local authority care, are often criminalised and have limited or no access to specialist care and accommodation, legal advice or independent advocacy.  

“London’s response to child trafficking and modern slavery needs to be joined up, so that children do not fall through gaps in child protection responses, and more perpetrators are caught and prosecuted for heinous crimes against children. This conference is a good opportunity to highlight areas for improvement and build on some of the good work that we are starting to see in some London councils.”

Tamara Barnett, Human Trafficking Foundation, said: 

“The Slavery Unit in the Metropolitan Police are leaders in this field but many of those working in borough police forces and local authorities in London barely recognise the problem exists and we know time and again victims are being missed or not believed. There is also a constant battle to get local authorities to provide victims of trafficking with housing or any safeguarding when they leave government-funded safe houses – as a result many go missing or get re-trafficked. This is a tragedy as well as huge waste of money and we are seeing more and more councils being taken to court. We hope this event will be the first major step in educating London boroughs about their duties to victims of modern slavery and that victims will start to be believed and supported.” 

Councillor Meenal Sachdev, Shiva Foundation, said: 

“We know the Met police are working hard to tackle this issue, but one agency acting alone will never be sufficient. This conference and the work we hope it leads to are about meaningful collaboration among statutory agencies. There is great multi-agency work being done in different regions around the country and we want to highlight that. This conference aims to encourages attendees to build on what is working well and to strengthen mechanisms to help identify and provide support to victims of trafficking.”