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Modern slavery: a major problem hovering under the radar


A County Council inquiry into modern slavery in Buckinghamshire could last for up to six months, says its Chairman, County Councillor Steven Lambert.

The Transport, Environment and Communities Select Committee agreed yesterday (Tuesday, October 31) to set up the cross-party inquiry group to investigate the extent of the problem across the county, how it can be identified and reported, and how to support victims of modern slavery.

With the scope of the investigation, and the possible volume of evidence to be gathered, Steven is clear the inquiry group is in it for the long haul. "This is potentially a major problem hovering below our radar, and we’re intent on getting it clearly on to the community’s radar, which isn't something we can rush," he said. 

Modern slavery traffickers and slave drivers coerce, deceive and force people into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment. Research last year by University College's Jill Dando Institute, warned of the potential for exploitation of workers in isolated agricultural jobs, remote factories, and in caring for an increasing ageing population.

Police recorded 150 Buckinghamshire victims between February 2016 and March 2017. They said females are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and domestic servitude, while males are targeted for labour and forced criminalisation.

But there's concern that in Buckinghamshire there is a lack of:

  • Widespread awareness of the issue.
  • Understanding about the true extent of modern slavery.
  • A dedicated victim service   

Steven said: "While we have duties under the Modern Slavery Act, we need to know much more about what modern slavery looks like in Buckinghamshire. We know there were recent cases in Oxfordshire and Reading in Berkshire, but we don't know what we don't know about it in Buckinghamshire.

"The outcomes from our inquiry will help us identify what training and awareness are needed, which organisations we should be working with, how the issue can be reported effectively, and how we support the victims in our county."

In the coming months the inquiry group will work on a fact-finding timetable to gather evidence from national and regional charities and church groups working with victims, community organisations who might encounter those trapped in modern slavery, housing associations, and public bodies such as the police and other local councils.

The inquiry group will also gather information from the other County Council Select Committees, as well as social care and safeguarding teams.

An inquiry report is expected in early Spring.  

Select Committee Chairman David Carroll said he was delighted Steven, a Liberal Democrat councillor, had agreed to chair the inquiry. "This is a serious matter that affects the whole community, and in the interests of openness and transparency, I believe it's right we should lay down our party preferences."

 IN THE PICTURE: Steven Lambert, Chairman of the Modern Slavery Inquiry

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