Over the past year modern slavery cases reported in the care industry in the U.K. have more than doubled. Investigators have said in the last 18 months protecting care workers from modern slavery went from “not being on the radar” to a “top priority”.
The uptick is due to post-Brexit changes that make it easier for overseas care staff to come work in the UK and help fill the thousands of job vacancies that currently exist. As the supply chain of immigrant workers has grown, so have the cases of modern slavery reported by carers forced to work backbreaking hours, among other forms of labor exploitation, under threat of visa cancellation.
Increased demand leads to more exploitation
The BBC reports that as of March this year the government had issued 102,000 skilled worker, health and care visas to foreign workers. This represents an increase of 171% over the previous year. On the other side of the equation, in 2022 the National Referral Mechanism – the system through which modern slavery victims are identified and supported – received 17,000 referrals of possible cases of modern slavery from the Home Office. That number is the highest number ever recorded.
One survivor, Terri, said she was working up to 20 hours a day, often seven days a week. In the U.K., care workers must be paid at least the National Living Wage of £10.42 ($13.45 USD) but after two months, when Terri received her wages, she had been paid less than £2 ($2.58 USD) an hour.
Sara Thornton, the former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner said:
“Victims of modern slavery are extremely vulnerable, they will be in terror of the people who’ve trafficked or enslaved them, who will tell them there’s no point going to the police or the local authority or a charity because they won’t support you.”
No anti-slavery commissioner and no protection for survivors
Adding to the challenge are a lack of government action and cruel anti-immigration legislation passed just last week.
“…the recently passed Illegal Migration Bill will make it even harder for modern slavery survivors to access support as it allows the government to legally detain and remove anyone who unlawfully enters the UK. Traffickers will leverage this to pressure their victims not to go to the police.”
Freedom United shares Thornton’s view that the government’s failure to appoint an anti-slavery commissioner is “a grave, grave concern”.