The Cumbrian Context
Jo explains: “There are many factors that make the situation in Cumbria challenging – the county is vast in size but low in population. This means there is less money in Cumbria compared with counties with bigger populations as funding is often calculated per capita. Local authorities have faced massive budget cuts and everyone seems to be under time and financial pressure as well as feeling weary and stretched. It is difficult for the statutory agencies to cover such a large area and therefore victims of modern slavery can go undetected.”
Rachael adds: “Modern slavery is often present in the agricultural and hospitality sector – two industries that are big in Cumbria. Businesses can struggle to recruit workers and may unknowingly rely on illegal employment agencies who promise to source employees but actually exploit people. The contract market also brings challenges with brothels popping up near to where contractors stay Monday to Friday. There is significant poverty and deprivation across the county and all of these things combine to make Cumbria a fertile ground for criminal gangs. We face unique challenges in our county and we need a unique response.”
Jo and Rachael want to strengthen and support a partnership or network that helps to inform, resource and equip people to respond more effectively to modern slavery in Cumbria. “There is need for an improved multi-agency, community response. We want to help establish an active modern slavery network in Cumbria, something that draws together the key stakeholders from across the county including public sector, frontline practitioners, volunteers and churches.”
However, before they could create a new network, they felt it was important to gather people to acknowledge the difficulties in supporting victims of modern slavery and scrutinise the county’s Modern Slavery Pathways and Guidance document.
Rachael says: “The existing Modern Slavery Pathways and Guidance document isn’t as effective as it should be. As in many parts of the country, referrals to the National Referral Mechanism can get lost along the way and people are not always clear on what they should do if they have concerns about someone. We want to improve the Guidance Document so that frontline workers have the tools they need to support potential victims. My aim is that as well as forming a long-term partnership of modern slavery champions, we will also create a practical document that maps out an effective response. I would also like to develop industry-specific packages of training so we can support businesses in the hospitality and agricultural industry, for example, so they know what to look out for.”