THERE are tens of thousands of people in Britain living in slavery, according to the National Crime Agency.

The UK-wide serious crime unit said there were human beings treated as commodities, and forced to work for little or nothing in “every large town and city in the country”.

NCA operatives are currently assisting on 300 live police operations targeting modern slavery, with alleged victims as young as 12 being sold to families in the UK from Europe.

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Will Kerr, NCA director of vulnerabilities, said: “The more that we look for modern slavery, the more we find evidence of the widespread abuse of the vulnerable.

“The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone previously thought.

“This should not be acceptable in any way, shape or form.”

Kerr’s comments come as the NCA launched an advertising campaign raising awareness of the signs of modern slavery in everyday life.

He said there were “lots of different outlets” for people trafficked into the UK to be working illegally and against their will, with many affecting people in everyday life.

Kerr said examples included those working at car washes and in construction as well as in agriculture and food processing — often receiving very little pay and forced to put up with poor living conditions.

He said the most common nationality of victims brought into the UK were people from Eastern Europe, Vietnam and Nigeria.

But he also cited one example of a 12-year-old Roma girl being stopped at border control, bound for a life as a domestic slave.

He said it underlined the sheer scale of the problem authorities were facing, further complicated by the fact some people do not realise they are a victim of slavery. He added: “People are being exploited on an hourly and daily basis.

“The full scale and extent of it, we don’t know. But what we have found is that in every medium-to-large town and every city in the UK, we have found evidence of vulnerable people being exploited.

“We can’t put a figure on it but we can say there are tens of thousands of victims across the UK.”

Earlier this year, the NCA released figures which showed the number of suspected victims of slavery and human trafficking had more than doubled in three years.

There were 3805 people reported as potential victims in 2016, an increase from 1,745 in 2013, according to NCA statistics.

A recent BBC documentary suggested Eastern European crime gangs were repeatedly forcing trafficked women into sexual exploitation and sham marriages in Glasgow.

The women, who are EU citizens were lured to the UK with false promises, leaving poverty and deprivation in countries such as Romania and Slovakia with the prospect of a well-paid job in Scotland.

Europol say the gangsters work with Asia gangs and force the women to marry men to give them residency.

Angelika Molnar from Europol’s Human Trafficking unit said people were now the second most lucrative criminal commodity in Scotland after drugs.

Last month the Scottish Government unveiled plans to give the police and courts greater powers to target human traffickers.

The Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Orders allow courts to stop people convicted of slavery offences recruiting staff, working with children and vulnerable people or travelling to certain countries for a minimum of five years.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said Scotland should be a “hostile place” for modern slavers.