Survivors of modern slavery live in every London borough

Patrick Ryan, CEO at Hestia, discusses what can be done to support survivors of modern slavery who live in London.

The recent tragedy in Essex in which 39 Vietnamese people died has shone a spotlight on human trafficking and modern slavery. Official figures estimate that modern slavery in the UK affects 13,000 individuals.

However, this is widely accepted as the tip of the iceberg and some estimates suggest the figure is 10 times as high (see box: ‘In numbers’). These are incomprehensible numbers in 21st century Great Britain. Work is proceeding across a number of fronts to try to tackle the situation – and housing providers have a key role to play.

Supporting victims

Over the past decade, Hestia has partnered with The Salvation Army through the Home Office commissioned Victim Care Contract (VCC) to support adult victims across every London local authority and also in Kent. This support is available to all victims accepted into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

Potential victims of modern slavery are entitled to safe accommodation if needed and access to financial, medical and legal assistance, as well other support to help them as they begin to rebuild their lives; such as counselling and help to secure their own home, employment or training. To date, Hestia has supported 4,000 adults and dependent children and the numbers increase year on- year.

There are currently more than 1,400 adult survivors in our service. The people we support come from more than 70 different countries. Last year, the National Crime Agency reported that the top country of origin for all victims of modern slavery was the UK with nearly half of children exploited being from the United Kingdom. This completely debunks the misconception that victims come from somewhere else.

In numbers: modern slavery in Great Britain
  • 13,000 individuals are affected by modern slavery
  • 1,400 adult survivors currently in Hestia’s service
  • 90% of modern slavery survivors suffer from mental health problems
  • 10% of London’s rough sleepers are victims of modern slavery

Exploitation and violence

In 2018, nearly 60% of survivors in our service escaped sexual exploitation. The second most common type of exploitation among the people we support is labour exploitation. People exploited in this way are often forced to work for 16 hours or more a day, every day, with little or no pay. The third most common type of exploitation is domestic servitude. This type of exploitation is the hardest to uncover, as victims are rarely allowed to leave the homes of their exploiters.

Whether it is sexual exploitation, forced labour or domestic servitude, exploiters commonly use physical, sexual and psychological violence and often all three. The majority of the people we support are women. One in four are pregnant at the time they enter the service, and most are in the final trimester of their pregnancy without ever having seen a health professional. Often, it is the desire to protect their unborn children that gives them the strength to escape.

Rough sleeping link

More than half of the men we support have experienced rough sleeping after escaping their captors. Hestia’s recent research suggests that nearly one in 10 of London’s rough sleepers are victims of slavery. Street homelessness is now recognised as a risk factor for slavery, because gangs target vulnerable people for exploitation. Hestia and Crisis are funded by the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport to support working with homelessness organisations to enhance their ability to identify and respond to modern slavery.

Survivors face a long journey to recovery. Most arrive destitute. More than 90% suffer from mental health problems including PTSD, depression, self-harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts. Many also suffer from long-term physical health problems, such as serious injuries sustained during their slavery or sexually transmitted diseases and HIV as a result of being raped.

Access to housing

Local authorities have a dual statutory duty of preventing homelessness and referring potential victims of modern slavery into the National Referral Mechanism as a first responder organisation. Hestia is currently providing local authority training – funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – on homelessness and modern slavery. The aim is to support councils in meeting these two duties and ensuring the long-term protection of survivors.

At present, local authorities will often not offer accommodation to survivors. The risk of being refused accommodation is considerably higher for survivors who do not have access to advocacy, such as that provided through Hestia’s Phoenix Project. This is a volunteer led programme of long-term support after survivors have exited support provided through the VCC. With advocacy, survivors are better able to communicate their vulnerability to local authorities and so gain access to housing.

Critical to recovery

Longer-term secure housing for those formally recognised by the Home Office as victims of modern slavery is a critical provision to support their longer-term recovery. Although all are affected by their exploitation, survivors are also resilient and want to rebuild their lives. They want to study, volunteer, work and give back. Safe and secure housing is a critical and necessary platform for enabling this contribution. Hestia is looking to develop new partnerships with housing providers to better meet this need. We are also looking for premises where we can provide outreach services in a discreet and confidential setting.

Please contact Abigail Ampofo at if you or your organisation would like to support Hestia’s work with survivors of modern slavery.

If you are concerned about someone, please call The Salvation Army’s confidential Referral Helpline on 0300 3038151.


To discuss issues raised in this article, contact Liz Zacharias :

This article is also featured in CT Brief, Issue 46 – Health, Care & Support edition

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Survivors of modern slavery live in every London borough

Patrick Ryan, CEO at Hestia, discusses what can be done to support survivors of modern slavery who live in London.

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