A UK Conservative MP says there could be as many as 10,000 victims of modern slavery working in factories in Leicester. His claim comes as a new report estimates there are around 100,000 such victims nationwide.

North West Leicestershire MP Andrew Bridgen told Sky News on Monday that there is a “systemic failure” within the Leicester local authority that has allowed thousands of workers in textile factories across the city to be exploited over many years.

I’ve estimated it’s around 10,000 individuals who are effectively in modern slavery, providing garments for internet retailers.

Bridgen, who blamed the shocking figures on a “conspiracy of silence,” spoke out on the same day that a report based on police data said there could be more than 100,000 slaves in Britain today.

Analysis conducted by the Centre for Social Justice think tank and the anti-slavery charity Justice and Care warned that the UK government’s job retention scheme during the Covid-19 pandemic has served to exacerbate matters.

The report found that the scheme had been “exploited by criminal networks, who have claimed furlough payments for victims of slavery who were forced to work within their businesses.”

The authors of the research concluded that, after the data is extrapolated to the broader UK population, there will be at least 99,469 victims of slavery, in cases that are reported to police. However, this does not include the hidden majority of victims, who have yet to be identified.

Apart from the human cost, there is also the severe economic damage slavery brings. In 2017, the UK government estimated that the financial cost of slavery to the country was up to £4.3 billion, based on figures ranging from 10,000 to 13,000 victims.

Leicester has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, after becoming the first city in the UK to have a local lockdown imposed, after a spike in new coronavirus cases that is rumored to be linked to garment factories in the city.

Whistleblowers from Leicester’s textile industry say some factories almost doubled their staff numbers to handle online orders during the initial national lockdown – in some cases, with no social distancing measures in place. However, Leicester City Council said health officials had informed it that no evidence had been found to tie the increase in Covid-19 cases to the sites.

The city’s mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, has been highly critical of the government’s handling of the lockdown, hitting out at the slowness of available Covid-19 data.

In an interview with BBC Breakfast on Monday, Soulsby said, “It was clear from discussions we were having last week with them [the UK Department of Health] that they haven’t yet got a clue how on earth they’re going to measure what constitutes success in this.”

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