A landmark report has exposed how migrant workers recruited to care for the elderly and people with disabilities in the U.K. are being exploited by agencies who are cutting their pay by hundreds of pounds.
Pay docked to cover accommodation costs
The research documents the experiences of live-in care workers in London who migrated from countries including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Hungary, and Poland. As live-in care workers, their jobs required them to stay overnight at clients’ homes. But unscrupulous agencies are reportedly cutting their pay to cover accommodation costs.
Employers can legally deduct £8.70 a day – up from £5.35 in 2016 – from workers’ pay if they are providing accommodation, as might happen with farm workers in rural areas.
But Dr Caroline Emberson, who led the research, and Dr Agnes Turnpenny, from the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University, said it was unethical and “absurd” that low-paid live-in care workers should be charged for accommodation when their jobs required them to stay in clients’ homes overnight.
Workers also reported being subjected to racist abuse and sexual harassment from clients and their families and were also expected to carry out additional work in their homes such as cooking and cleaning.
Poor treatment and exploitation of care workers
Often live-in care workers are working 80-hour weeks for low wages without sufficient breaks. Leaving isn’t an option for many as they are subjected to high exit fees that can amount to thousands of pounds. On top of that, agencies that act as an intermediary between workers and clients are wrongly docking their pay for accommodation costs.
One worker said “The pay was very low, they charged a lot for accommodation, and they treated me very badly. Basically they wanted to keep me as a slave.”
Migrant live-in care workers, the majority of whom are women, are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery and exploitation given the isolated nature of the work in private households.
Urgent reforms needed
The report calls for a series of reforms to better protect live-in care workers from exploitation including banning exit fees, removing or cutting visa fees, and reforming the system that ties workers’ visas to their employers.
Furthermore, it calls for greater oversight of recruitment agencies and requiring agencies to register to supply workers to the U.K. so that employers can identify “safe” recruitment agencies.