Coronavirus has shone a light on a “lawless state” within Britain, where people are held as slaves and criminal gangs steal from the taxpayer, says Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
The former Conservative Party leader tells of the “enormous criminal sub-society thriving in the UK”, whose practices have been exposed during the pandemic.
Writing in The Telegraph, Sir Iain says: “A significant and well-organised network of gangs brings people into this country by different methods, including illegal passports. But the gangs don’t just go away when the migrants land in the UK. Too many migrants are then forced into slavery in disgusting conditions.”
He made the comments after a report was published by the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank, on slavery and exploitation of workers in Leicester.
It follows reports of a clothing factory in Leicester that allegedly paid staff illegally low wages and flouted safety measures.
Theresa May speaking during a session on action to end forced labor, modern slavery and human trafficking in 2017 – Julie Jacobson/AP
The think tank report says: “Covid-19 has put under the spotlight the fast fashion industry in Leicester East, and its exploitation of thousands of (mostly immigrant) workers.
“Exploitation that ranges from unsafe working conditions through to slavery; from staff being paid below the minimum wage to fraud.
“None of these is acceptable and must be addressed.”
The report tells of a “history of allegations of links to widespread exploitation and at times modern slavery and trafficking in Leicester” and includes witness accounts saying it is “not unusual for someone to be working 50 hours a week on £3.50 per hour”.
Last month the CSJ estimated there were at least 100,000 people in modern slavery in the UK – 10 times the estimate of a 2017 government study.
At the time the Government estimated slavery in the UK cost the country £4.3 billion. The Modern Slavery Act was passed five years ago, while Theresa May was home secretary.
The CSJ reports raises concerns over a number of frauds connected to modern slavery, including furlough fraud, where “workers have been forced to sign papers stating that they worked at a higher rate so the businesses could claim more money from the Government; none of this money went to the workers.”
The Treasury’s Job Retention Scheme has supported 9.6 million furloughed workers and cost the taxpayer £34.7 billion to date.
The think tank points out that victims were unable or unwilling to speak out for fear of deportation.
Sir Iain writes: “It took a spike in new Covid infections in Leicester, for example, to shine a light on the garment factories there,” adding: “Ironically, the sudden fear of contracting Covid-19 briefly became bigger than the fear of reprisals from speaking out.”
The migrant crisis is “scratching the surface of a much deeper and more troubling problem”, Sir Iain says. “There is an enormous criminal sub-society thriving in the UK today.”
He cites criminals fraudulently obtaining passports, immigration status and false driving licences. “Far too little has been done and alongside these are benefit fraud, VAT evasion and money laundering, all opening the door to voter fraud,” he writes.