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Modern slavery referrals to authorities skyrocket 78% in one year

Referrals of potential victims of modern slavery soared by 78% from 2014 to 2015, prompting councils to warn that greater awareness was needed from the public to spot the signs of exploitation that can lead to workers living in squalid conditions and earning as little as £1 an hour.

Figures released by the LGA revealed that despite efforts by council and fire and rescue services to rescue people working long hours for close to no pay in suspected brothels, car washes, nail bars and fast food outlets, more had to be done to engage the public with potential indicators of modern slavery.

The LGA has urged the public to look out for tell-tale signs, including large numbers of people being ferried between properties in vans or minibuses early in the morning or late at night.

It has been estimated that there are 10-13,000 victims of slavery currently living in the UK, and National Crime Agency figures have estimated that the number of referrals of potential victims of slavery has soared from 172 in 2014 to 306 in 2015.

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 protecting the most vulnerable in society.

“Modern day slavery is a rising threat to our communities, and because of its hidden nature, is a major concern.

Criminal gangs are making large sums of money on the back of others’ misery by forcing people, explained Cllr Blackburn, “often by threatening or using physical violence - to work for little or no pay, or to pay off outstanding debts”.

But the people taking advantage of slavery were often enjoying a life of luxury, the LGA chair said.

“Councils are determined to identify these ruthless profiteers and rescue their victims from lives of servitude – and communities can really play a big part to help,” he stated.

“Many people may think modern slavery is a problem which doesn't affect them, but nowhere is immune because it can happen everywhere. This isn't someone else's problem and we all need to be alert to it, wherever we live.”

The public were also encouraged to report suspicious behaviour which could indicate potential exploitation to local authorities by the LGA, which include concerns over the minimum wage and working and living conditions.

“If you are using a car wash, look at whether people working there have clothes that protect them from the strong chemicals being used,” said Cllr Blackburn. “Tip-offs from communities can help councils work with partners to better tackle slavery and exploitation.

“A simple phone call could make a world of difference to people living wretched lives at the hands of heartless gang masters.”

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