Britain could have four times as many slaves as previously thought, according to a new estimate from the Home Office.
Up to 13,000 people are living in slavery in Britain, according to the first “scientific” estimate made of the country’s modern slave conditions.
The number includes domestic staff, women forced into prostitution and workers in fields, factories and fishing boats – and is four times higher than a previous estimate, by the National Crime Agency’s human trafficking centre.
Women are forced into prostitution, and children systematically exploited Home Secretary Theresa May
The number of slavery victims climbed to between 10,000 and 13,000 last year, the Home Office said. The previous estimate was 2,744.
Home Secretary Theresa May called the scale of the problem “shocking”, and said the first step to wiping out modern slavery was “acknowledging and confronting its existence”.
“These new figures starkly reinforce the case for urgent action,” she added.
The new estimate is based on Home Office analysis, which includes a “dark figure” of slavery victims not reported to UK authorities.
The most common overseas victims of slavery are from Albania, Nigeria, Poland and Romania, but the UK was the third most common country of origin in 2013, according to the National Crime Agency.
Vulnerable British adults and children are being systematically preyed upon by traffickers and slave drivers, says the Home Office report.
Theresa May says in her foreword to the report that young girls “are raped, beaten, passed from abuser to abuser and sexually exploited for profit”.
“Vulnerable men are tricked into long hours of hard labour before being locked away in cold sheds or run-down caravans,” she adds.
“Women are forced into prostitution, and children systematically exploited. Domestic workers are imprisoned and made to work all hours of the day and night for little or no pay.
“We must put a stop to these crimes, and stamp out modern slavery.”
The document is part of a plan for co-ordinated action across government and law enforcement agencies to run in tandem with the Modern Slavery Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.