LONDON, Dec 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain's failure to grasp the scale of modern slavery is hindering its efforts to tackle the crime and ensure quality support for victims, a public spending watchdog said on Friday.
Britain is struggling to track progress in its fight against slavery as the interior ministry, or Home Office, has an "incomplete picture" of the crime and needs to do more to ensure victims of slavery are identified and protected, it said.
"The campaign to drive out modern slavery is in the early stages," said Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office (NAO) that published the report.
"To combat modern slavery successfully, however, the government will need to build much stronger information and understanding of perpetrators and victims than it has now."
Regarded as a leader in the global drive to end slavery, Britain passed the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 to crack down on traffickers, force businesses to check their supply chains for forced labour, and protect people at risk of being enslaved.
At least 13,000 people are estimated by the government to be victims of forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude - but police say the figure is the tip of the iceberg.
While more victims of slavery have been identified and referred to the government for support in recent years, the Home Office does not evaluate the quality of care provided to survivors staying in safe houses, according to the NAO report.
"The Home Office's lax monitoring of support services means victims are at risk of getting poor quality care," said Meg Hillier, the chair of parliament's public spending committee.
People who say they have been enslaved enter Britain's National Referral Mechanism (NRM), through which they are given help from counselling to housing while the government decides whether or not to recognise them as victims.
Anti-slavery groups and law enforcement have previously criticised the NRM, saying it leaves victims at risk of being re-trafficked or scared to seek help for fear of being deported.
The government in October announced reforms to the NRM, and a Home Office spokesman said this would improve a system which is helping a growing number of victims in Britain. At least 3,800 possible victims were referred to the NRM last year.
"We are investing in supporting victims, raising awareness of modern slavery in at-risk communities, and helping organisations that work to tackle slavery," the spokesman said.
(Writing By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; 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)
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