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The West Midlands Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner launched the West Midlands Anti-Slavery Network and Public Health England  conference bringing together major players in law enforcement, NHS, local authorities and other organisations to reflect on the work being done to tackle modern slavery and human trafficking within the West Midlands and if there are ways to improve the service offered to victims.

The Deputy PCC highlighted the impact of COVID-19 is making people more vulnerable and could lead them being targeted by traffickers due to financial difficulties, losing their job, potentially losing their home and the incoming wave of high unemployment could see some of the most desperate people in society fall victim to modern slavery and trafficking with the promise of a better life.

In his speech to the conference, Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner, Waheed Saleem said:

“Large numbers of people in the West Midlands have lost their jobs or are still at risk of losing their jobs as the Furlough Scheme comes to an end. The repercussions of this on increases in homelessness as people lose their income can be devastating.

“We know that traffickers use services that support vulnerable individuals to target people for exploitation. It’s vital that homelessness agencies also work with partners to spot the signs of trafficking and offer support to victims. 

“There is also a huge concern that people trafficked into the UK to work in industries that have been largely shut down due to lockdown and restrictions may then be pushed into more risky and insecure work, for example sex and bonded labour.

“The exploitation of children, particularly when it comes to criminal exploitation and county lines, is also an area of concern.

“An unfortunate repercussion of coronavirus and the lockdown is that more young people have been isolated from their support networks – predominantly at school but also from extra-curricular activities or mental health support groups.

“This coupled with pandemic-related anxiety and feelings of boredom with the school closures is a toxic combination making young people more vulnerable to being targeted and recruited into county lines drug gangs. We have seen this with children who were excluded from school prior to lockdown.

“Although schools have now reopened, large numbers of students – and in some cases whole year groups – are still being sent home as the schools respond to positive coronavirus cases so this risk of these children being exploited is still a very pressing one. 

“So it’s really key that conversations about modern slavery and human trafficking keep happening and efforts to support victims are not only maintained but accelerated whilst we are in the middle of this pandemic.”

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