Helen Hodgson
Modern slavery in lockdown

None of us have been able to escape the life-changing circumstances of Covid-19. But for the estimated 136,000[i] people trapped in modern slavery in the UK, the reality is unimaginable.

In 2019, 10,627[ii] people were identified as potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK. The challenges of 2020 are likely to spike this figure to an all-time high, yet people trapped in slavery remain hidden and forgotten.

As many of us are furloughed from our jobs, people exploited in public-facing roles like car washes and nail bars have been thrown out on the streets or worse. Traffickers have become more creative, finding hidden ways to use people. With no support, language, friends or family, people are unlikely to present themselves to their local council as homeless, leaving them destitute and so desperate they will take up any offer of work. We have heard of at least one instance of women entering supermarkets to sell sex, such was their desperation for income.

The links between homelessness and modern slavery are strong and whilst Local Authorities are reported to be housing all homeless people, many are slipping through gaps. In some areas, people sofa surfing are being advised to sleep on the streets so they can be accommodated. In other areas, survivors of slavery and exploitation are being housed in hotels used by sex workers and addicts. Even when someone is accommodated in a ‘safe’ hotel, staff are not trained to look for signs of slavery and so exploitation remains undetected.

Traffickers are manipulative and clever. Right now, there are many people who will do anything to feed their children or keep their homes. Poverty is a breeding ground for exploitation.

The Modern Slavery Helpline reports a 56% increase in calls so far in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

Survivors of human trafficking and modern slavery who have been accommodated in safe houses have been given leave by the Government to stay until June. However, all asylum and other legal decisions have been slowed, making the limbo worse than ever. Those who have received decisions during this time will be exited in June, potentially with nowhere to live, putting them at risk yet again.

Mental health, a recurring theme for all of us currently, is at rock bottom for survivors of modern slavery. Lockdown is tough as we miss seeing our friends and family and going about our everyday lives. But for survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking, these challenges are amplified.

They have already experienced a form of lockdown, removing their choices and freedom. And during that lockdown they suffered mental, physical, psychological and sometimes sexual abuse.

Lockdown isn’t simply a removal of the choice to meet with friends and family. Lockdown triggers memories of that abuse.

Unable to access all their usual support systems, community groups or education services, flashbacks, suicidal thoughts and worse are common. Many survivors do not have smart phones or access to the internet, so face isolation with their own thoughts. One of our friends, a survivor of domestic servitude who loves attending her church regularly, now cannot meet with her church or access their online services.

We know our God of justice and freedom is grieved by this. So are we.

At Hope at Home we host survivors in our homes and our hosts are living with these people, gently loving them and providing them with a safe place to live despite the invasion of painful memories that consume their days and nights. This is a precious time to be able to show the love of Jesus!

We are preparing for an influx of people needing homes once lockdown is over. Our guests are usually people unable to legally work or claim benefits, leaving them destitute and vulnerable. When survivors are moved on from Home Office safe houses and accommodation, we believe it is an opportunity for the church to live out the call of Jesus to welcome strangers into our homes.

Please join us by:

- Praying for victims and survivors
- Supporting financially
- Considering hosting
- Spotting the signs of slavery when out and about (see for information on what to look out for)

Out of sight is not beyond God’s reach.

Or ours.


[i] Global Slavery Index
[ii] National Referral Mechanism annual statistics 2019


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