Modern slavery rising in U.K. care sector

Modern slavery is a “feature” of care sector according to U.K. immigration

  • Published on
    December 19, 2023
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  • Category:
    Forced Labor, Law & Policy
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Restrictions on the free movement of workers around the E.U. have significantly increased the likelihood of exploitation in the U.K., according to The Guardian. One care sector watchdog group is warning that cases of modern slavery have seen a tenfold increase over the last three years. 

Modern slavery a growing “trend” in care sector 

Post-Brexit, restrictions were put in place that severely limit the movement of workers from the E.U. into the U.K. The restrictions also tie a worker’s visa to their employer, thus creating a situation ripe for abuse. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) recently told MPs the current situation has contributed to modern slavery becoming “a feature” of the care sector. 

James Bullion, chief inspector of adult social care and integrated care said:  

“(Modern slavery) is a trend and it is a feature of the markets now. A few years ago, we would have had a market based on more free movement from Europe.” 

The care sector relies on foreign workers to provide care for residents as there just aren’t enough qualified care workers in the U.K. Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, an umbrella group that represents the major care chains, said overseas workers have “good skills” and that the continuity of care they provide is important because they stay in jobs. However, instances of modern slavery in this sector are on the rise. In 2021 the CQC made four referrals about modern slavery, 37 referrals last year, and is on track to hit 50 for 2023.  

Uptick in fees and wage theft 

Unions for the care sector are reporting this year some foreign workers were paid effectively as little as £5 an hour. In addition, many were charged thousands of pounds in unexpected fees by their employer or hiring agency.  

Bullion stated: 

“Where you have got a situation where you are dependent on a visa, and you are then dependent on an employer, the possibility for exploitation then increases significantly. 

According to Bullion, the exploitation care workers experienced due to the policies include cases of not being paid for months and dozens being squeezed into overcrowded lodgings.  Backing this claim, a recent BBC Panorama undercover investigation at a care home in the U.K. found foreign workers claiming they were trapped by visa rules and were being exploited. On top of that, there are additional complaints of pay being withheld from care workers for months and overcrowding in shared housing from a separate channel.  

New immigration policies “very concerning” 

These restrictions coupled with a new ban on care workers bringing over dependents as part of an attempt to reduce immigration have raised concerns across the board.  

Green said: 

“The impact will be enormous, there will be less care available, people will be at higher levels of dependency when they access it.” 

Freedom United has long taken a stand against tied visa systems like the Overseas Domestic Worker visa system in the U.K. and restrictive immigration requirements like the ban on foreign workers bringing dependents rolling out this spring. These systems increase exploitation as employers are secure in the knowledge that a worker cannot leave their employment without risking detention and deportation. Join Freedom United in taking a stand against harmful immigration policies and protecting foreign workers, wherever they are.  

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