Researching the extent and nature of Modern Slavery in Oxford

Researching the extent and nature of Modern Slavery in Oxford

Researching the extent and nature of Modern Slavery in Oxford


Slavery isn’t something that happens in some faraway country, it’s happening right here. Slavery doesn’t belong to some distant past, it’s happening right now. And, as this research shows, slavery may be happening in far greater numbers than we thought.

Using an innovative approach, this research has found that the 123 cases of modern slavery in Oxford recorded by Thames Valley Police in a recent four-year window was, indeed, the tip of the iceberg.

There may have been between 319 and 442 ‘possible’ or ‘very likely’ cases of modern slavery in Oxford in a recent four-year window. Modern slavery has many faces, and they can all be seen in this report published by Elmore. There is a diverse range of local agencies that come into contact with potential victims of modern slavery. As the recommendations of the report show, we can all do something to stop slavery and exploitation. Slavery isn’t something that is so secret that it cannot be detected: much of it can take place in plain sight – people obviously undernourished and working on building sites or farms; nail bars where people are working for excessively long shifts; car-wash operations that feel exploitative and wrong. Prevention is key and a public health approach can be critical.

Elmore is proud to have been commissioned to carry out this research and utilise our expertise in supporting survivors of modern slavery. Elmore’s excellent team learned many things about the needs of exploited people and how to meet them, based on years of innovating and delivering an Independent Trauma Advisory Service to support survivors of exploitation and modern slavery across Oxfordshire from 2014 to 2017. This service has been positively evaluated and it is estimated that for every pound spent on the service, £2.88 would be saved from the public pursue. We also deliver the New Beginnings service for adult survivors of child sexual exploitation, which has similarly been positively evaluated.

As a co-chair of the Oxfordshire Anti-Slavery Network, Elmore is passionate about playing our role in the multi-agency response. Clearly the longer-term support and trauma informed services which we deliver will continue to be important for supporting survivors, alongside the excellent provision of services locally.

Vulnerability is the dominant feature of modern slavery, and it is the unacceptable exploitation of that vulnerability that we must join together to end. The tragedy of slavery is that it’s a condition of human making, driven by greed and inhumanity. But, together, we can implement the recommendations of this report and put the city into a stronger position to spot it, stop it, and drive slavery from Oxford.

Tom Hayes, Chief Executive of Elmore Community Services and Co-Chair of the Oxfordshire Anti-Slavery Network


Slavery isn’t just something that happens outside the UK; it is happening right here in Oxford. It may come as a surprise to many, but a lot of the identified victims of modern slavery and exploitation in Oxford, and across the UK, are British nationals.

Oxford City Council is proud to have commissioned and supported this report by Elmore Community Services following their provision of an Independent Trauma Advisory service to survivors of modern slavery and exploitation. The report provides new and important information about the extent and nature of modern slavery in our city.

It finds there is a considerably higher number of cases of modern slavery between April 2016 and January 2020 than Thames Valley Police had recorded. The use of a case-based methodology highlights the value of working with local service providers and agencies in addition to law enforcement to identify and support victims, but also put in place disruption strategies. We are committed to exploring, alongside partners, the locally relevant recommendations of the report on how to respond.

Oxford City Council has supported and led on anti-slavery measures across the city for many years. In 2016, the City Council supported Thames Valley Police in setting up Hotel Watch, which trains hoteliers in how to spot the signs of exploitation, including child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, and what to do if they believe something suspicious is happening on their premises.

The City Council has also introduced mandatory safeguarding training for all taxi drivers that it licences to operate in Oxford and worked with neighbouring districts to roll this training out to all taxi drivers across Oxfordshire.

As co-chair of the Oxfordshire Anti-Slavery Network, alongside Elmore, Oxford City Council has convened a roundtable on modern slavery for leaders from across the county with insights contributing to this research. We are committed to holding a second in February 2022 in order to reflect on and take forward the recommendations of this report.

Our city has great areas of poverty, areas where modern slavery can take hold. Ten of Oxford’s 83 neighbourhood areas are among the 20% most deprived areas in England, experiencing multiple levels of deprivation – low skills, low incomes, and relatively high levels of crime, and we are working with others to address this deprivation and inequality.

Alongside partners we are tackling this issue by identifying and offering support to victims. Throughout the city and beyond, we want citizens to be able to access information about, and spot the signs of, modern slavery and exploitation. Working together with our partners across the county we aim to raise awareness of these horrendous crimes against the most vulnerable in our communities.

Cllr Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council and Cabinet member for Economic Development


As the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, I have a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery offences and the identification of victims. My Strategic Plan 2019-2021 refers to the need to encourage better identification and referral of victims, to improve the quality of victim care and support, and emphasises the importance of working in partnership; all of which are key themes highlighted by this report.

Accurately assessing the prevalence of modern slavery in the UK is extremely difficult, with estimates ranging from 10,000-13,000 by the Home Office in 2013 to 136,000 by the Walk Free Foundation in 2018. This research sought to generate a stronger evidence base for those responsible for community safety across Oxford City to better assess the threat, risks and harm posed by modern slavery to adults and children, and develop more effective responses to identify, protect and support victims. I welcome this work and the commitment to taking an evidence-based approach to tackling modern slavery.

The research suggests that there may have been between 319 and 442 ‘possible’ or ‘very likely’ cases of modern slavery in Oxford City from April 2016-January 2020. This is considerably higher than the 123 cases recorded by Thames Valley Police and therefore demonstrates the rich data held by a range of agencies outside of law enforcement. It is clear that the range of organisations that may come into contact with a potential victim of modern slavery is diverse, so it is essential that they know how to report concerns and are aware of the various support pathways that exist. I support, and encourage, the recommendations made in the report to further enhance data sharing across the partnership landscape and to improve the coordination of multi-agency operational responses. The research identifies a number of vulnerable groups to be at particular risk including: child victims of criminal and sexual exploitation; adults with complex needs; unaccompanied asylum seeking children; Albanian women who are victims of sexual exploitation; and Asian and African women who are victims of domestic servitude. It also offers reflections on where further work is needed based on the valuable insight offered by frontline practitioners. Many of the challenges identified in relation to support for victims and survivors, including the need to access safe accommodation, longer-term support and trauma informed mental health services are also gaps nationally, so it is vital that any good practice developed is shared to help inform what works.

Finally, I am pleased to see this research recognise the importance of prevention and highlight the merits of a public health approach. There is a need to ensure that such activity includes primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention to immunise the population, protect those at risk and support those affected to reduce further harm. My office has recently worked with the University of Sheffield and Public Health England to produce a framework for a refined public health approach to modern slavery, including a guide for anti-slavery partnerships, which I hope will be a useful tool for multi agency partners in Oxford.

Dame Sara Thornton DBE QPM Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner (2019-22)

Read full report here.