New data reveals the number of potential modern slavery victims in the U.K. reached a record high last year with an alarming spike in reports of labor exploitation in health and social care providers like care homes.
Low pay, long hours, illegal fees
Unseen, a U.K. anti-slavery charity that runs the modern slavery helpline, revealed that calls to the helpline more than doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year. Reports of exploitation in the care sector in particular spiked with the number of potential modern slavery victims jumping almost sevenfold from 2021 to 2022.
Its report said: “For the first time, these nationalities have been indicated in situations of forced labour related to a range of care settings.” Of the 46 Zimbabweans who were identified as potential victims of slavery in the UK last year, all but one were working in the care sector.
The report explained the context of exploitation concerns in the care sector. It said: “The care sector has always been an area where forced labour could be present because of the use of temporary labour and the levels of low pay.”
Migrant care workers from Nigeria, India and Zimbabwe report receiving low pay below the minimum wage, withheld wages, long hours, and being subjected to illegal recruitment fees in order to secure a job in the U.K. Some are then saddled with debts they are forced to pay off.
An investigation by the Observer earlier this year also found that overseas care workers who reported exploitation to the Home Office risked being reported to their employers despite assurances of confidentiality.
In one case highlighted in Unseen’s report, several young men and women had been recruited by an agency on student visas to work in care homes in the U.K. At the time of their report, they said they had been working 14 hours a day for five days without pay.
One 25-year-old overseas care worker from Zimbabwe also told the Observer earlier this year that she had paid an agent £1,500 ($1,800) to arrange for a care home in the U.K. to sponsor her visa. Though it is illegal for recruitment agencies to charge workers fees for finding them a job, exploitative agencies continue the practice.
The U.K. must do more to support survivors
With an increase in the number of potential modern slavery victims, now is the time for the U.K. government to implement measures to better support survivors and reduce people’s vulnerability to exploitation.
However, we are alarmed at the government’s insistence on progressing the Refugee Ban Bill which will prevent potential modern slavery victims from being identified and would deport trafficking victims who arrive in the U.K. through an irregular route, even if forced.
This will have a devastating impact on survivors who already struggle to access the limited support available to them.