First homeless, then enslaved - rising risk for UK rough sleepers

by Sally Hayden | @sallyhayd | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 26 January 2017 17:48 GMT

A homeless man sleeps on a park bench next to a bicycle with bags of his belongings in London in this archive picture from 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

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4,100 people slept rough in England in 2016

By Sally Hayden

LONDON, Jan 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rogue employers are tapping the rising number of rough sleepers on Britain's streets and luring them into a life of modern slavery in building, farming and even illegal boxing, a British homeless charity said on Thursday.

Of the 61 homeless organisations surveyed by The Passage charity, it said 64 percent had come across cases of modern slavery.

Case workers cited vulnerable homeless people who were recruited off the street to work in building sites, on farms and to help with illegal boxing matches for little or no pay.

The finding comes as new figures reveal more than 4,100 people slept rough in England in 2016, a 16 percent rise on the year before, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.

"The fact that there are more people who are homeless, it's very clear that there are more people being exploited," Kevin Hyland, Britain's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

"It goes hand in hand that if there's more homeless .... those who are trafficking have got a bigger pool to go to."

There are an estimated 13,000 victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude in Britain.

The report recommended increased coordination between organisations working with the homeless and those that help victims of modern slavery.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has called modern slavery "the great human rights issue of our time".

In 2015, Britain passed tough anti-slavery legislation introducing life sentences for traffickers and forcing companies to disclose what they are doing to make sure their supply chains are free from slavery.

(Reporting by Sally Hayden @sallyhayd, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)