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A shortage of care home workers drives modern slavery cases

15th April 2024

The Clewer Initiative

Why is modern slavery growing in the care sector? What is the context?

In February 2021, the Government introduced a ‘Health and Care Visa’ for doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. The scope of the visa was extended to include people working in the social care sector.

The Government did this to tackle the enormous skills shortage in the sector. Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the number of vacancies in the care sector rose from 110,000 to 165,000. The visa scheme promised fast-track entry, reduced visa fees and dedicated support to come to the UK with their families.

However, the huge shortage of workers also opened the door to unscrupulous employment agencies with unethical practices. As Martin Plimmer of the GLAA explains: "Where there are such large amounts of vacancies, and a shortage of workers, this often leads to exploitation."

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This has resulted in the following situations:

  • Many people saw the opportunity to charge extortionate fees to find work and secure the visa. It is not untypical for workers from abroad to pay £20,000 to a recruitment agency to find them a job in a care home and organise the visa, despite the fact the visa costs are under £1000. This means workers are in huge debt before they even arrive in the UK and this forces them to accept all sorts of work and circumstances.
  • Many work for little or no pay or work for days on end without a day off.
  • Many have terrible accommodation
  • Many live under the constant threat of their visa being cancelled – the visa sponsor has to guarantee 39 hours of employment per week. If the worker breaches these terms, they are in threat of deportation. This creates huge fear and a willingness to accept terrible terms and conditions.
  • Many have been left destitute and have even reported their situation directly to the Modern Slavery Helpline.
  • Agencies moving staff around so that clients cannot get to know workers and spot signs
  • There has been a surge of people presenting at churches, explaining their desperate situation and asking for help.

Often the employment agencies are based overseas in India, Nigeria, Zimbabwe or Zambia and make huge promises to local care sector workers. While it is illegal in the UK to charge excessive fees to obtain visas and for finding work, it is not illegal overseas. The GLAA is trying to work upstream in these countries to educate workers on their rights.

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Warning signs to look out for

If you live or work or run a care home or visit a relative or friend in a care home, it is important to know potential signs of exploitation.

While it is a demanding sector to work in and many employees may be tired and juggling lots of demands, there are some indicators that should not be tolerated.

If you see the following signs, please contact the GLAA or Modern Slavery Helpline. They will be able to investigate further and identify whether workers are being exploited.

  • Carer is likely to be from India or an African nation and newly working in the UK
  • Working continually without lunch breaks or days off
  • Being paid under the minimum wage or not at all
  • Not being paid for travel between appointments
  • Walking long distances between appointments - no apparent means of transport to move between clients
  • Poor accommodation
  • Appears tired or in poor health
  • Looking destitute
  • Not keen to engage in conversation
  • Appears fearful or unhappy
  • Care company provides transport and a driver
  • Restricted movement including not being allowed to attend church or other place of worship
  • Workers not being trained properly

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