Modern slavery helpline calls at record high 

More than 7,300 calls for help and significant increases in reports of forced labour, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation – read Unseen’s Helpline Annual Assessment for 2022.
modern slavery helpline calls at record high
Photo credit: Jonny Simpson

Unseen’s Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline had its busiest year ever in 2022, new figures show.  

The findings are from the Helpline Annual Assessment, one of the most detailed reports on the nature of modern slavery in the UK. 

The figures for 2022 reveal: 

  • A potential 6,516 victims of modern slavery indicated – an increase of 116% compared to 2021   
  • A total of 7,315 calls from victims, the public and professionals working in organisations such as the NHS, local government and businesses – an increase of 16%
  • 9,779 contacts overall, which is the number of calls plus 2,464 contacts through our website and app
  • 1,046 cases of labour exploitation reported – an increase of 134%   
  • 479 cases of sexual exploitation, where people are forced into sex work – an increase of 66% 
  • 114 cases of domestic servitude, where people are forced to work as servants in a home – an increase of 75% 
  • A huge increase in potential victims in the care sector – 708 reported in 2022 (1,024% increase on 2021) 
  • Potential victims from 99 countries, with Romania being the most common, followed by India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Albania, China and the UK. 

Says Justine Carter, Director of Unseen and co-author of the Annual Assessment: 

“Every call we get is one too many as slavery should not exist today. However, it’s encouraging that more people are contacting us so that we can help them out of a life of misery.  

“There are around 100,000 people in the UK in modern slavery, so these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s still a lot we can and must do to prevent vulnerable people from falling prey to callous exploiters.” 

About the annual assessment

Modern slavery data from the Helpline Annual Assessment includes figures for every UK nation and region. 

It is used by charities, the police, local and national governments and businesses to inform policy and approaches to slavery and human trafficking.

The Annual Assessment also covers a range of sectors including hospitality, construction, retail, manufacturing and agriculture.  

Says Justine Carter: “To be serious about tackling modern slavery in the UK we need much more awareness of the true size of the problem, better support for victims, and many more resources going into targeting the criminals behind the exploitation.  

“Instead, the UK is bringing in new migration laws that criminalise some victims of modern slavery, forcing them underground and keeping them vulnerable to traffickers.  

“We should be doing more to expose the extent of slavery – not driving it further into the shadows.” 

About the helpline

Unseen’s Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline is free, runs 24/7 and is totally confidential. 

As well as supporting victims themselves, the Helpline advises police officers, NHS workers, local government employees and businesses about what to do if they suspect an instance of modern slavery.  

The Helpline also encourages members of the public to get in touch if they are worried about anything they’ve seen.  

If you need help or are concerned about anything you’ve seen, call the Helpline, any time of day or night, on 08000 121 700.  

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Justine Currell

As I came to understand more about the issue, including through a visit to an Unseen safehouse, I knew I needed to do more to stop this abuse and exploitation.

For the last five years of my Civil Service career, I was the Modern Slavery Senior Policy Advisor in the Home Office and led on development of the Modern Slavery Act, including the transparency in supply chains provision and business guidance.

I joined Unseen to lead the development of the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline, and Unseen’s work with businesses. I am regularly called upon to present at national and international conferences and use my experience of working with Ministers to influence other governments internationally to take action to address modern slavery and, in particular, business supply chain issues.

In my spare time I enjoy keeping fit, music, reading and travelling.

Andrew Wallis

What ultimately compelled me to act was a report on how people from Eastern Europe were being trafficked through Bristol airport to the USA. Kate Garbers, who went on to be an Unseen Director, and I wrote to all the city councillors, MPs and the Police Chief Constable challenging them on the issue. The challenge came back to us: this city needs safe housing for trafficked women. And so Unseen began.

But we never wanted Unseen to be just about safe housing. We wanted to end slavery once and for all, and that remains our driving focus.

I chaired the working group for the Centre for Social Justice’s landmark report “It Happens Here: Equipping the United Kingdom to Fight Modern Slavery”. This is now acknowledged as the catalyst behind the UK’s Modern Slavery Act of 2015. It was a great honour to be awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours that year. On the other hand, I’ve also been described as “the loveliest disrupter you could ever hope to meet”.

This job has taken me from building flat-pack furniture for safehouses, to working with businesses to address slavery in supply chains, to delivering training, raising awareness and advising governments around the world.

When not at work, I enjoy travelling, spending time with my dog Harley, cooking, supporting Liverpool and Yorkshire CC, music (I’m a former DJ) and endurance events such as the Three Peaks Challenge and Tribe Freedom Runs – which I vow never to do again. Until the next time.