Poverty, Destitution and Exploitation

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Understanding the vulnerabilities of people homeless and rough sleeping to modern slavery


Exploitation is an under-reported but inextricable aspect of poverty. Traffickers are professionals at turning vulnerable peoples’ desires for a better life into profit through the most vicious kinds of exploitation. While other elements of extreme poverty have been studied in great detail in the UK and around the world, the links between chronic poverty and exploitation are less well understood.

In the media and in public conversation, trafficking and exploitation are often portrayed as crimes that mostly effect people from outside the UK. Whether recent arrests of the Czech sex trafficking ring in Levenshume and Gorton or the tragedy of the 39 Vietnamese nationals found dead in the back of a Lorry in Essex. What is often missing from the reporting is that in the UK, there are three times more minors exploited from the UK than any other nationality and UK adults are the 4th most frequently exploited demographic. Vulnerability to exploitation does not depend on the country you live in, but on the leverage traffickers can use to control and manipulate people for a profit. With the UK’s social safety net stripped in the wake of austerity since 2010, 14 million people living below the poverty line and 1.5 million destitute across the country, the number of people vulnerable to exploitation is huge.

One of the most vulnerable groups in the UK are people who are homeless or rough sleeping. Despite decreases in the numbers of people with no place of safety in Greater Manchester following the concentrated efforts of housing schemes like A Bed Every Night, the problem remains significant and the number of people who are vulnerable to exploitation remains high. Previous research has demonstrated links between homelessness, rough sleeping and a vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation. The Passage in London 2017 report found that 64% of homelessness organisations have encountered modern slavery. The Modern Slavery Helpline reports that 276 cases connect modern slavery to homelessness. In addition, the links between rough sleeping and a vulnerability to trafficking have been illustrated in numerous case studies.

Specifically, Human Trafficking Foundation and Greater Manchester Combined Authority identified attributes which increase rough sleepers’ vulnerability including:

•  A history of mental health issues
•  Alcohol and drug dependency needs
•  Former asylum seeker status
•  Having no recourse to public funds

Between January and March 2019, STOP THE TRAFFIK circulated a survey aiming to understand the experiences of being targeted for exploitation from people who were rough sleeping, homeless, or accessing homeless services across Greater Manchester. Extensive findings from the survey are presented in a full report.

The survey revealed that out of the 180 respondents:
•  29% had experienced being offered food, accommodation, drugs or alcohol in return for work
•  32% had witnessed or heard of it happening to someone else
•  21% had concerns over how safe or genuine these offers were
•  22% had warned someone, or been warned, not to take job offers from particular people or groups
•  17% had known someone go missing after taking up an offer of work
•  24% had not been paid wages that were promised to them after doing work

The report also includes quotes which viscerally characterise the exploitation taking place in the region every day:

“[People offer food, accommodation, drugs or alcohol to me] all the time – everyone who is rough sleeping gets asked to sex work or prostitute themselves”

“[I was] bullied… for not shoplifting. My feet was burnt down and I was thrown in the canal”

Tom Madden Stop the Traffik for GM Poverty Action

Tom Madden, Community Data Analyst for STOP THE TRAFFIK

Having demonstrated the existence of the problem, STOP THE TRAFFIK and GMCA are collaborating on a second stage of the research and a multi-agency response to the issue. We will build a network of organisations working to support homeless and rough sleeping people across Greater Manchester and collate their understandings of the exploitation occurring in the communities that they support. We will then disseminate this shared learning, through training, awareness campaigns and literature to transform Greater Manchester’s understanding and preventative strategy towards the exploitation to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

If you would like any more information about the report or would like to get involved in the upcoming preventative projects combatting exploitation in Greater Manchester, please get in touch by email.

More information about STOP THE TRAFFIK


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