Slavery in Britain today

Slavery in BritainThere are an estimated 30 Million slaves throughout the world. But we, in Britain, cannot point the finger. We must ask why we tolerate 10,000 or more slaves in the United Kingdom today. We need a stronger law which will rank human trafficking alongside kidnapping and murder. We also need more vigilance on the part of the police, officials, social workers and the public as a whole to spot the signs of workers in conditions with restricted liberty.

It is difficult to measure the number of people living in slavery today in Britain. Legal slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire 180 years ago. Slavery is now illegal and this is why it is not easy to estimate the numbers involved. But slavery certainly exists in various forms, A Home Office report says “There could be more than 10,000 slaves in Britain today”.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May said, “Slavery is all around us, hidden in plain sight“. Thousands of slaves are thought to work in cannabis farms, factories, building sites and farms as well as brothels, shops, nail bars and in domestic servitude.

Slavery in Britain throughout the ages

Slavery has existed for thousands of years in Britain.

Roman Empire

The economy of the Roman Empire’s presence in Britain depended heavily on the institution of slavery.

Norman Conquest

After the Norman conquest, the Doomsday book indicated that over 10% of England’s population were slaves.

Barbary Pirates

From the 16th to the 19th centuries it is estimated that between 1 million and 1.25 million Europeans including many from Britain were captured by Barbary pirates and Barbary Slave Traders and sold as slaves.


From the 17th century to the 19th century, workhouses took in people whose poverty left them no other alternative. They were employed under forced labour conditions amounting to slavery.

African slaves

Slaves from Africa were first traded by the British in the 16th century. By the 18th century, the slave trade became a major economic mainstay for such cities as Bristol and Liverpool.


William Wilberforce’s Slave Trade Act 1807 abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. It was not until the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 that the institution finally was abolished in Britain and the British Empire.

Slavery is now illegal in Britain. as it is now in every country throughout the world. However there are probably more than 10,000 illegal slaves in Britain, and an estimated 30 million slaves in the world.

Who are these Slaves

  • Men, woman and children trafficked from countries such as Albania, Romania, Nigeria, India and Vietnam.
  • Young british girls, often under the “care” of local authorities trapped in sexual exploitation.
  • People who are physically forced to work for their slave “owners” and who cannot escape.
  • Girls and women forced into prostitution who are controlled by those who exploit them.
  • Workers in illegal operations such as cannabis farms, trapped by the fear of their controllers and the authorities.
  • People trapped by language, stolen passports, lack of knowledge of their rights, fear of the authorities.

Examples of prosecution for slavery

  • Khan was jailed for 12 years for assaulting, raping and holding a woman prisoner after she was snatched from Slovakia and trafficked to Lancashire. Khan, 34, of Burnley, was said to have “bought” the vulnerable 20-year-old and “married” her at a local mosque to try to halt his deportation from the UK to Pakistan.
  • Imrich Bodor, Abdul Sabool Shinwary, Kristina Makunova and Petra Dzudzova – helped in the trafficking of the woman, who was unable to speak English or ask for help.
  • Ilyas and Tallat Ashar brought a deaf girl from Pakistan and kept her in their cellar.
  • A couple who trafficked a 10-year-old girl to the UK, then repeatedly raped and kept her as a servant for nearly a decade, were jailed.
  • Patience from Nigeria, was brought to London to work in the home of a solicitor, Kenny Gbaja. She said she was promised £50 a week as a nanny – but was instead subjected to verbal and physical abuse over a period of three years, and was not allowed to leave the house without permission.
  • Former hospital director Saeeda Khan was found guilty of trafficking a Tanzanian woman into the country to work as her domestic slave.
  • William Connors, 52, wife Mary, 48, their sons, John, 29, and James, 20, and son-in-law Miles Connors, 24, were convicted of conspiracy to require a person to perform forced or compulsory labour between April 2010 and March 2011 following a three-month trial at Bristol Crown Court.
  • Hungarian nationals Joszef Budai, 24, and Andrea Novak, 20, were jailed for eight years after being found guilty of trafficking young women into Britain and forcing them to work as sex slaves.

Enslaving the homeless

According to the Daily Mail, vulnerable men and women are snatched off Britain’s streets, kept in squalor, their benefits seized, and they are forced into hard labour. They had been recruited at soup kitchens and off the street with the promise of paid work, food and lodgings. Take the case of John.

John’s Story

In a previous life, John was married. They say he once served in the Royal Navy; that was before mental health problems, exacerbated by alcohol, took hold.  John was vulnerable to exploitation, an easy target, and condemned to the kind of wretched existence that seems barely comprehensible in 21st-century Britain.

John’s ‘home’ was a freezing export container at the bottom of a garden. The garden belonged to a family and he belonged to them.They were his masters and he was their slave.

Often he could be heard howling like a dog. Indeed, he was treated worse than a dog. John, it is claimed, was never allowed inside the bungalow and his food — such as it was — would be handed to him at the back door. In return he worked.

After suffering a stroke he was no longer able to lay paving stones or tarmac so instead he fetched and carried. Sweeping the driveway was one of his main tasks, a duty he performed even in the pouring rain. ‘He limped and could barely walk,’ recalled one woman. ‘I also saw him picking lice off all parts of his body, so he could not have washed for months.’

The State benefits to which John was entitled, were paid directly into the bank account of his ‘masters’ who had told the authorities they were caring for him.

John was one of the wretches imprisoned in a camp in Bedfordshire which was raided by 200 police officers in 2011. It is alleged that victims were starved, beaten, and, in some cases, had their heads shaved, evoking memories of wartime concentration camps.

Modern Slavery Bill

There is a new bill going through parliament, supported by all parties, which will strengthen the law to more effectively fight this heinous crime. In particular the new law will:

  • Consolidate existing slavery offences into one Act.
  • Increase the maximum sentence to life imprisonment putting the crime on a par with murder and kidnapping.
  • Include powers to recover the sizeable profits.
  • Enable victims forced to commit a crime to claim a statutory defence so that the victims are not treated as criminals themselves.
  • Empower the courts to force slave masters or traffickers to make reparations to the victims.


The evil of modern-day slavery is that it exploits the most vulnerable members of society.

Immigrants. Ruthless and violent men take advantage of people seeking the best for their families. They make promises of profitable work in another country, but once there they hold on to their passports and enslave them, making them work for no reward.

Vulnerable girls. Criminals target girls who are in children’s homes or foster homes. Taking advantage of the juvenile’s seeking care, they introduce them to sexual exploitation, trapping them into a life where they have no freedom of choice.

‘Down-and-outs”. Vulnerable, homeless adults are targeted on the street, or at soup kitchens with promise of work and  accommodation. They are then made to work against their will and kept in atrocious conditions with no hope of escape. Their ‘masters’ not only get free labour but pocket any benefits the person is entitled to.

What can we do?

  • Support an organisation like Hope for Justice who work to free victims of trafficking and slavery.
  • Be vigilant. Is the person cleaning your car or doing your nails working under conditions of enforced labour?
  • Be aware of the situation and share your concerns with your family, your friends and your social media contacts.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

One thought on “Slavery in Britain today”

  1. George, thanks for beating this drum loudly. Our history hear in the states is poor, as you know. People are still be enslaved here with sex trafficking as well as exploited with low wages and long hours for illegal immigrants. It is not without irony that the people who shout the loudest about illegal immigration are of the same party who tends to exploit them as employers. If you want to stop the practice, we need to punish the employers. I learn more each time I read your words. Thanks for what you are doing. BTG


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