The number of referrals of potential victims of modern slavery made by councils has soared tenfold in five years, the Local Government Association has warned.
The LGA cited the latest National Crime Agency statistics which showed the number of council referrals of suspected victims of modern slavery to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) - the UK’s framework for referring and supporting victims - had risen from 131 in 2013 to 1,306 in 2018.
The rate of council referrals has increased by 66% in the last year alone, from 789 in 2017, and 212% in two years, from 418 in 2016.
The LGA said the increase in council referrals suggested an increasing awareness of modern slavery and the growing issue of county lines drug trafficking, many cases of which are included in the NRM figures.
It warned that the rapid year-on-year increase in referrals was “further evidence of the current huge pressures on children’s services, housing and adult social care, which all child victims and some adult victims are entitled access to”.
No specific funding is given to councils to support victims of modern slavery.
The LGA, which is working with the Home Office on reforms to the NRM, has called on the Government to use the Spending Review to provide more funding for councils to help tackle modern slavery and support its victims.
The Government is currently piloting a number of reforms to the NRM, including increasing the length of time support is provided to adult victims while they are in the NRM and after they leave it, and consideration of how to make the system more effective for children and young people.
However, the LGA said that supporting these changes over the longer term would require increased funding for key council services victims might need, including housing, children’s services and adult social care.
Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Councils will not tolerate the exploitation of people in their communities and are committed to tackling modern slavery, which can have a devastating impact on vulnerable people working for little or no pay for ruthless profiteers who threaten or use physical violence.
“Children and young people face specific risks through county lines drug trafficking or child sexual exploitation, and it’s vital that councils have the resources they need to tackle this abuse and support its victims.”
Cllr Blackburn added: “The spiralling rate of council referrals is having a huge impact on council services already at a tipping point, including children’s services and adult social care. Supporting victims and creating a sustainable NRM system in the long term will require appropriate levels of funding.
“Modern slavery is a rising threat to our communities. Government needs to use the Spending Review to plug funding gaps facing key council services which can help support victims.
“Because of its hidden nature, modern slavery is a major concern that everyone needs to be alert to wherever they live and report any suspicious behaviour. A simple phone call could make a world of difference to people living miserable lives at the hands of heartless criminals.”