The harrowing scale of modern slavery in the UK today and what is being done to support its victims was revealed to Rotarians this week.
Guest speaker at Maidenhead Rotary Club’s Monday meeting was Marc Pearson, an anti-slavery envoy for the Medaille Trust which provides refuge for the victims of modern slavery and helps them rebuild their lives.
A Catholic organisation set up in 2006 to help survivors from people trafficking, the trust is one of the largest providers of supported safe house beds for victims of modern slavery in the UK.
Marc explained that while slavery in the traditional sense still exists in some parts of the world, modern slavery covers people being forced into work for low pay under the control of others.
Often they are vulnerable people trafficked from Eastern Europe on the promise of a better life. But when they arrive in the UK they find the reality very different, forced instead into near slave-labour or even a life of crime while having to live in crowded and unsanitary conditions. Victims include sex workers and people working in construction, agriculture, nail bars and car washes.
Marc said more than 40 million people are estimated to be trapped in some form of slavery across the world. Research from 2018 estimated the number of victims in the UK could be at least 136,000. In 2019 alone 10,627 potential victims were identified by police, up 53 per cent on the previous year and a figure which has grown year-on-year since 2015, when the Modern Slavery Act was introduced.
“It’s a good thing that more people are identified as it means more people get helped,” said Marc, who explained the Medaille Trust has nine safe houses across the UK, providing 116 beds for people who have escaped modern slavery.
Working with other organisations such as the Salvation Army, it provides support on the long journey from victim to survivor as it helps them rebuild their lives, often tackling problems such as alcoholism, mental illness and drug addiction resulting from their experiences. Last year the Trust helped 171 women, 86 men and 48 children from 47 different countries.
The Trust also tries to prevent people becoming victims and works in countries like Albania to stop those with limited economic prospects falling prey to people traffickers. At the other end of the problem it assists the police with prosecutions. It has helped score notable victories against criminal gangs, one of which had 33 people forced into construction work living in a single house.
Marc’s talk finished with a quote from a former female victim. She said: “Medaille opened their doors to me when I was most in need. The staff walked by my side and helped me to find my way. With their help I spread my wings and today I fly high. I am free.”