Modern slavery and homelessness

Tuesday, 5 March 2019 - 10:34am

The Passage is a homelessness charity that operates in London and Brighton, and works to address modern slavery and street homelessness at both a local and national level. Júlia Tomás, Anti-Slavery Coordinator, explains what modern slavery looks like in the homelessness community.

In January 2019, The Passage published a handbook on Modern Slavery for the homelessness sector. The handbook covers the different types of modern slavery there are, signs to look out for, when and how someone might be recruited, and useful numbers to call if you are worried about someone in your community. Modern slavery is happening right here in the UK – it targets the most vulnerable in our society and uses them to make profit.

Forms of modern slavery include the more commonly thought of ones such as sexual exploitation, child slavery and human trafficking, but victims can also be forced to work against their will – on farms, building sites, in factories, restaurants, nail bars, car washes, brothels, massage parlours and private homes. Common forms of forced criminality in the UK are cannabis cultivation, drug dealing, benefit fraud, theft, begging, and the selling of counterfeit goods.

Exploitation, which is illegal under UK and international law, is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Homelessness and modern slavery

We know that people who are homeless and people who are rough sleeping are targeted by traffickers and unethical employers. Homelessness and modern slavery are often linked because:

  • People who are homeless or sleeping rough are particularly vulnerable to grooming, psychological manipulation, physical abuse and exploitation and recruitment by perpetrators or traffickers.
  • Victims who have fled from perpetrators may be left destitute, without ID documents, and may have no recourse to public funds and end up rough sleeping
  • After leaving the support services provided by the government, through the National Referral Mechanism, gaps in services and the availability of longer-term support can lead to adult victims of modern slavery becoming vulnerable and homeless.

Victims of modern slavery are likely to suffer from mental health problems, depression and anxiety, to have physical injuries, have substance misuse problems and have a higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases. Often victims are exploited in more than one way. Benefit fraud, in particular, frequently overlaps with other forms of exploitation.

What frontline staff can do to prevent modern slavery and support victims 

It is important that staff working in the homelessness sector are aware about the risks of modern slavery, and can spot the signs of it. With people who are homeless being at high risk of becoming victims, it’s important to stay alert when we are working to support them.  

Modern slavery can operate in services – day centres, night shelters and soup runs. Sometimes people that are recruiting purposely choose these places to target individuals and the people using our services might be the victims of slavery. The Modern Slavery Handbook provides numbers to call, if you have suspicions about modern slavery in your community.

The Anti-Slavery Coordinator role and the Passage Anti-Slavery Steering Group

Following the report, Understanding and Responding to Modern Slavery in the Homelessness Sector, The Passage created the role of an Anti-Slavery Coordinator, unique in the sector and in the UK, to implement the recommendations of the report. This project involves two major components of the Government’s Modern Slavery Strategy:

  • Protect: strengthening safeguards against modern slavery by protecting homeless people from exploitation and increasing awareness and resilience against this crime;
  • Prepare: reducing the harm caused by modern slavery through improved victim identification and enhanced support.

Part of the project was the creation of The Passage Anti-Slavery Steering Group, which provides a platform for interaction for strategic partners to oversee the progress and direction of The Passage’s project. Members are invited to provide advice, direction and relevant expertise as regards to the prevention of modern slavery and the protection of the homeless population to this crime. The members are Homeless Link, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s Office, the Met Police – Modern Slavery and Kidnap Unit, Greater London Authority and London Housing Foundation.

Find The Modern Slavery handbook here.

To find out more about modern slavery in the homelessness sector or to order print copies of the handbook contact

Homeless Link have published guidance for frontline services about human trafficking and modern slavery.