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Modern Day Slavery in the UK


Oscar-winning picture of the year 12 Years a Slave by accomplished British Director Steve McQueen attempts to tell how the brutal enforced capture of human beings was something that society at the time did not quickly recognise as wrong. However some of the critics of 12 Years a Slave have a negative view of the re-telling of a period in history which views people in this negative way.

But in reality slavery has not gone away and so this film is not a re-telling but a snap shot in time about something being reported currently as affecting many people. The autobiography of Solomon Northup represented in 12 Years a Slave; a person kidnapped and sold into slavery is an experience some people  are unfortunately experiencing currently. Today is better known as “trafficking” but the details of the terrifying actions and enforcement tell us that it is Modern Slavery.

The media may only recently be bringing the issue to light, but ‘Modern Slavery’ or ‘Trafficking’ has been a steady and significant issue in the UK for many decades.  It is seen as a serious crime in the UK, with new legislation being developed now in order to tackle it. With Social Work supposedly at the front line of this issue, how is it that Modern Slavery information and guidance is not provided, not mentioned and not prepared for across the board for social workers?

Adults and Children are trafficked into the UK on a daily basis and for many different reasons. They may be brought here from overseas for sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude or even to be a criminal- forced to engage in benefit fraud, etc. Many adults and children already live in the UK and are taken from their towns and cities to work elsewhere- in the UK and the rest of the world. This serious problem is a reality for so many, however even those lucky enough to escape their captors face further troubles from the Police or Border Agencies.

Those who contact the authorities for help are often arrested for being Illegal Immigrants, treated like criminals and not offered support and advice on what has happened to them. The brain-washing and disorientation of Modern Slavery means many people find it difficult both physically and psychologically to leave their captors, and even more difficult to understand that they are a victim.

The problems lie in the lack of information and awareness provided not only to the public, but to the agencies who deal with immigration and trafficking, especially those in Social Work. The shocking truth is that no Modern Slavery appears in any Social Work curriculum before graduation, and no training is provided thereafter. How we can be expected to tackle these issues with no information as a simple answer- we cannot.

Social Workers need training to be able to identify the signs of abuse and should be provided with more in-depth training to tackle Modern Slavery when they encounter it. The ‘Widespread Ignorance’ of the National Referral Mechanism must be acknowledged and changed. The Mechanism is the National Framework for ‘identifying victims of trafficking and providing appropriate support.’

Current recommendations from the reports released suggest that additional training must be provided to all involved, including social workers, border agencies and police. Modern Slavery must be added to the curriculum of study for all graduates of Social Work and also that a Modern Slavery Act needs to be established to abolish the mistreatment of those who have suffered and protect them from prosecution if they have been brought into this country by force. Read The Draft Modern Slavery Bill  published in the UK on 16th December 2013

Written by Gradle Gardner-Martin

Gradle Gardner Martin is a UK registered Social Worker, and the owner of Continuing Professional Development Social Work Training an online membership site for Locum Social Workers and Independent Social Workers.
She also runs an Online Direct Work Equipment Company called Elevate Elevatefor parents, foster carers and social workers to engage with children and adults.

She has been a qualified social work practitioner 27 years and has supervised and managed large areas of front line social work practice.

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