At full council last night councillors unanimously supported a motion regarding Modern Slavery brought by Cllr Jeanie Bell, Cabinet member for Safer, Stronger Communities, and seconded by Cllr Mancyia Uddin.
The motion reads:
“Whilst there has been a growing awareness of the issue of Modern Slavery, over recent months there have also been growing concerns regarding the impact of the ongoing pandemic on people who are vulnerable to Modern Slavery, including their ability to seek help and support during the period of lockdown and the response from criminals who seek new methods of exploiting people for financial gain.
Modern Slavery is exploitation – labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, debt bondage and human trafficking are just some examples of the criminal activity that this term includes.
In 2017, the Council supported a Motion on Modern Slavery, ensuring that the Council addressed the supply chain and requiring that all partners legally and fairly employ people who come from abroad to work in the borough. In 2018 the Council also became a signatory to the Charter against Modern Slavery, confirming our commitment.
Whilst these are important steps to take, we need to increase our actions.
This is an issue that St Helens Council cannot address alone. We should not only raise awareness of this issue and work together to both support the victims of Modern Slavery. We also need to ensure that we are supporting the agencies who bring the perpetrators of these actions to account. In January, our local Community Safety Partnership, the Safer St Helens Executive, agreed to work together on this issue, recognising that there may be potential victims in our area and hidden from the support of agencies, who are being exploited.
Therefore, I want to build on that commitment from the Executive, to ensure that we take a whole system approach. I am proposing the establishment of a working group, including the Safer St Helens Executive, the St Helens Safeguarding Adults Partnership Board and other key agencies to develop a Modern Slavery Statement and Action Plan for the borough. This will include commitments on how we will raise awareness and respond, how we ensure our staff are trained and how we ensure that some of the most vulnerable residents in our borough are protected from this abuse.”
Introducing her motion to Council, Councillor Jeanie Bell said:
“Good evening and thank you madam mayor.
This motion is a little different to the format that we normally use to request action or communication.
This motion is a public commitment, made by full council and hopefully supported by all members present in the chamber today to mandate our council to create Modern Slavery Statement and Action Plan for the borough.
My colleague Cllr Lisa Preston began this work in 2017 with a motion highlighting Modern Slavery, and In 2018 the Council also became a signatory to the Charter against Modern Slavery, confirming our commitment.
Our work has continued throughout this period with joint enforcement visits between licencing, trading standard, police and partners, however this motion is a commitment to continue building on this crucial work and taking it to the next level with formal action plans and an agreed strategic direction going forward.
Modern slavery can take many forms including trafficking of people, forced labour and servitude, sexual exploitation of children and country lines.
Sometimes people who are victims can be working in public settings such as nail bars, car washes, the construction, agriculture and care industry, and take away venues. Despite its public nature, the crime is still hidden.
Victims are often hidden away, may be unable to leave their situation, or may not come forward because of fear or shame, if they are trafficked here illegally they face the fear of deportation and being criminalised by the very system supposed to protect them.
This is especially so for women, children and young people.
However nobody is immune to becoming a victim, and the perception that this only happens to people being trafficked illegally is not the whole picture, almost 23% of victims identified in 2018 were UK nationals.
Modern slavery is an increasing problem in the UK, according to the office of national statistics
- the Modern Slavery Helpline received a 68% increase in calls and submissions in the year ending December 2018, compared with the previous year
- there were 5,144 modern slavery offences recorded by the police in England and Wales in the year ending March 2019, an increase of 51% from the previous year
- In 2015, there were 3,264 potential victims of modern slavery referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the UK’s framework for victim identification and support. In 2020, this had increased to 10,613 potential victims.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of reported and confirmed cases, it is incredibly difficult to know the true figure as this is a hidden and often unreported crime. The current estimates show the figure to be closer to 100,000 victims within the UK, many of who are children.
In 2020 the Independent Modern Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton stated that the Modern Slavery Act had not yet followed through on its promises. Although there are more investigations this is not being translated into prosecutions and convictions.
As the type and complexity of forms of modern slavery have grown, so too has the need for a wider response from local government. It has become clear that many departments within every type of local authority, however big or small, may need to be involved in campaigns, referrals and assessments – whether social care, housing or regulatory services.
In other Local Authority areas work has focussed around key themes such as;
- providing support to child victims
- providing support to adult victims
- community safety and disruption activity
- ensuring supply chains are free from modern slavery
- effective internal structures and work with external partners to tackle modern slavery.
We will be exploring all of these going forward to build our own strategy and action plan to reflect local need based on close partnership working via our community safety partnership.
As councillors all of us can play an instrumental role in general awareness raising among local residents.
This may focus on helping residents to:
- understand that modern slavery is an issue in the UK
- be aware of some of the high risk areas
- spot the signs of modern slavery
- be clear about what to do and where to report it if they see something of concern
- think about how the choices people make about what to buy may impact modern slavery.
His will mean considering additional training and development for staff and councillors similar to the PREVENT training we have had recently.
Modern slavery is a stain on our communities and a shameful hidden secret, we need to call time on this, bring it into the light and tackle it head on.
This is about people in our communities using others to increase a profit margin, commit criminal activity and above all else it’s about the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable residents in our Borough.
This is the purpose of this motion and I hope all councillors present here today will support it.”
The motion was approved unanimously.