The home secretary told the Conservative Party conference that “modern slavery laws are being abused by people gaming the system” and has repeatedly claimed that protections are being manipulated by small boat arrivals.
Ms Braverman is considering legislation that would change the way the Modern Slavery Act operates, as well as the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) for identifying victims.
In a letter to Home Office officials on Thursday, the Office for Statistics Regulation said it had requested “specific evidence” for her claims but none was provided.
Ed Humpherson, the director general for regulation, said that although the number of modern slavery victims referred to by the Home Office had increased rapidly, the rise “may reflect changes in awareness”.
“The proportion of referrals deemed by the Home Office to be genuine cases of modern slavery in its ‘conclusive grounds decisions’ has risen year by year from 58 per cent in 2016 to 91 per cent in 2021, which does not suggest in itself that gaming is a growing problem,” his letter added.
Mr Humpherson said that if there is no evidence available, ministers and officials should make the sources for statements clear to “avoid the risk of misleading people”.
A group of charities, let by After Exploitation and the Centre for Public Data, had raised concern that the Home Office was misleading the public by using a rise in NRM referrals to suggest fraudulent use of the system.
In a response to campaigners, Mr Humpherson said: “We consider that the NRM statistics do not support the claims that people are ‘gaming’ the modern slavery system, and the source of the claim is unclear to us.
“We have asked the Home Office to ensure that claims in public statements are clear on whether they are sourced from published statistics or from other reliable evidence.”
Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee probed claims that small boat migrants are abusing protections at a session earlier this week, where the former slavery watchdog said she had also found no evidence for the claims.
Dame Sara Thornton, who was the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner until May, said that being recognised as a victim of modern slavery did not give people the right to remain in the UK and that the process was separate to asylum.
She told MPs she had written to previous home secretary Priti Patel several times asking for evidence of alleged manipulation but did not receive any, and that referrals had risen because of a government strategy encouraging Border Force officers, police and other officials to get better at identifying potential victims.
“It is my view that the factor of modern slavery protections has been exaggerated in this whole issue about small boat crossings,” Dame Sara said.
“I do not think the evidence, as I understand it, supports the rhetoric, and the concern is that the rhetoric is severely undermining the Modern Slavery Act protections.”
During a previous Home Affairs Committee session in November, Ms Braverman and the Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft claimed the system was being abused but did not give details on how.
The home secretary said: “There is a high number of people coming from Albania making asylum claims and making modern slavery claims.
“The reality is that our legal framework is allowing those claims to be made and then processed.”
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