Hundreds of potential slavery victims in Scotland last year – as plans to restrict claims revealed
Hundreds of potential slavery victims were referred to Police Scotland in the last year, figures show, as the Home Office reveals plans to restrict claims to stop alleged "abuse" of the system.
Figures show there has been a rise in the number of referrals for support across the UK, and anti-slavery charities are now calling on the Government to stop "distracting attention from the real criminals" ahead of Anti-Slavery Day on Tuesday, October 18.
It comes after Home Secretary Suella Braverman received criticism for attributing the increase in modern slavery victims to migrants "gaming the system" by claiming asylum in the UK as victims of slavery, and reclassifying the crime as an "illegal immigration and asylum" issue, rather than a safeguarding one.
The latest Home Office figures show 505 potential modern slavery cases were referred to Police Scotland for investigation in the year to June – and of them, 138 were aged 17 and under.
The total number is up from 410 the year before.
Across the UK, modern slavery referrals for suspected victims have risen.
There were 14,600 in the year to June, and 5,800 of them were children – up from 11,600 and 5,200 respectively the year before.
Potential cases are flagged through the National Referral Mechanism, which allows first responders, including local authorities, charities and certain government departments, to refer them to police forces for investigation.
Revealing plans to crack down on what she sees as fraudulent claims for asylum under the Modern Slavery Act, Ms Braverman said recently: "The truth is that many of them are not modern slaves and their claims of being trafficked are lies."
Since the new Home Office was formed, modern slavery has been listed as an "illegal immigration and asylum" issue overseen by the immigration minister, rather than under the duties of the safeguarding minister as before.
The action came ahead of Anti-Slavery Day, which is hosted by a range of anti-slavery charities and organisations, including Hope For Justice, and raises awareness of the 50 million people in slavery around the world.
Hope for Justice said Ms Braverman's reclassification of modern slavery is "highly regressive" and the shifting of responsibility will exacerbate the issue.
Meanwhile, anti-slavery charity Unseen said the numbers show there is still a long way to go to eradicate slavery in the UK and called on the Government to "stop conflating modern slavery and immigration".
"The Government has provided no evidence that asylum seekers are gaming the system, and by putting out such spurious claims without facts or context is verging on irresponsible," CEO Andrew Wallis added.
"The result is we’re treating vulnerable people as criminals when they most need our help, and distracting attention from the real criminals behind slavery and trafficking."
The Home Office said it is "committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery" and that the National Referral Mechanism will continue to function in the same way.
But a spokesperson added: "It is clear people are abusing our system when they have no right to be here in order to frustrate their removal."