Modern slavery and human trafficking are horrendous crimes which affect some of the most vulnerable people in London. The victims of modern slavery are often referred to as ‘hidden in plain sight’, a phrase that highlights the significant challenges that police and other partner organisations face in recognising and protecting these vulnerable victims. Both myself and the Victims’ Commissioner have repeatedly called for an information-sharing firewall to protect those victims who may have uncertain immigration status, and the MPS is working to encourage police officers to prioritise the individual as a victim. The MPS has also committed to tackling modern slavery and supporting its victims, and in January appointed two victim navigators to support modern slavery throughout investigations and trials. These have increased the number of victims who choose to support a police prosecution by 30%.
Thank you, Mr Mayor. The information I have is that there was a significant drop-off in modern slavery offences reported and solved by the MPS between the 2019/20 and 2020/21 financial years. Do you think that the pandemic has impacted on the MPS’s ability to detect victims of this crime? If so, how are you now rectifying this issue?
Yes, without a doubt the pandemic has unfortunately created more barriers to the identification and support of victims of modern slavery, namely due to the lack of contact agencies are having with those potentially at risk. That is why we have only this year had a ‘train the trainer’ session for police and local authorities to help them better identify and support victims of modern slavery, but the detection rates are not good enough, so that is one of the things that we are focusing to improve on.
You already talked about the immigration status of many of the victims of modern slavery. Under this Government’s new plans for immigration, people are forcibly trafficked through countries such as France and Spain before arriving here, who see their asylum claims rejected. The Government has recently received sharp criticism on this issue from its own Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner that the proposed changes will keep more people in the hands of these traffickers and increase the number of people in modern slavery in the UK. Do you and the Victims’ Commissioner share these concerns, and have you made representations to the Home Office on behalf of these victims, or if you have not, will you consider making representations to the Home Office?
Yes, I am concerned, as is the Victims’ Commissioner. I responded to the Government’s consultation on the immigration plan to make my concerns clear. I am happy to send those to you. If there are additional points you think I should raise, I am more than happy to.
Unmesh Desai AM: Finally, Mr Mayor, this is a national issue and it is a scandal, quite frankly. Given the scale of the issues that we have talked about this afternoon and the fact that addressing modern slavery requires strong partnership working with other large cities across the country, will you consider convening a meeting with other metro mayors to address both the drop-off in reported modern slavery offences and the challenges that the Home Office’s new immigration plan may bring?
Yes, but what would be more sensible is for me to speak to the relevant Police and Crime Commissioners as well, so let me take away what is the best way to coordinate our concern across different cities about the issue you raise and let me think about what is the best way to do it.