Care workers in the U.K. have been calling the national helpline for victims of modern slavery at an unprecedented rate since 2022, reports the BBC. Risks of exploitation and abuse are higher in the care sector than in other sectors because of the use of temporary labor visas and unlawful recruitment practices. People from overseas were lured under false pretenses to fill the employment gap, many having paid large sums to the people who brought them over putting them into debt bondage and vulnerable to exploitation.
The staggering facts
In a published report on October 23, Unseen U.K. provides statistics on the gross exploitation and abuse of care workers:
- 606% increase in the number of modern slavery care sector cases from 2021 to 2022
- In 2022, over 700 care staff used the helpline, figures which continue to rise in 2023.
- Nearly one in five potential modern slavery victims identified by the charity in 2022 worked in the care sector.
- Workers are being charged thousands of pounds to travel to the U.K. and sponsorship certificates.
- Unscrupulous employers and agents are charging workers 25,000 GBP adding interest and deducting the debt from their wages.
Justine Carter, director at Unseen U.K. states,
“The issue with care workers experiencing exploitation is that very vulnerable people are being employed to care for very vulnerable people.”
The setup for abuse and exploitation
To meet labor shortages in the care sector, the U.K. opened new visa opportunities for foreign laborers. Unfortunately, the possibility of exploitation for many of the migrant workers who come to the UK increases partly because they are not told their rights and how to raise concerns. Another significant factor is the debt they incur from borrowing in their home country to pay for unfair and unlawful recruitment practices, visa fees, and travel costs to get to the U.K. putting them in debt bondage. If they are unable to pay their debt, they are made more vulnerable to exploitation in the U.K.
Unison head of social care Gavin Edwards said,
“Staff are often trapped in substandard housing, earn a pittance for excessive hours, have colossal debts, and are locked into unfair contracts.”
Many carers report that the companies that brought them over do not give them any work or just not enough to survive. Many fear deportation if they report what is going on and how they are treated.
Unseen’s chief executive Andrew Wallis says that the current visa scheme that allows more people to be recruited from abroad to work in care homes has led to a rise in labor abuse and exploitation and is a disaster for many workers.
The care sector needs to do better
Everyone deserves security, safety, fair wages, and access to support. Abuse and exploitation is a vital problem in the U.K. care sector that disproportionately affects migrant workers. Don’t let the care sector get away with this, take action by signing our petition to call for the passing of mandatory human rights due diligence laws.