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Terri's Story: Modern Slavery in the Care Sector

15th April 2024 | Modern slavery

The Clewer Initiative

For File on Four, Datshiane Navanayagam investigated why cases of modern slavery in the UK care industry are on the rise.

She also explored whether the systems in place to support victims are working.

In the radio programme, she shared the story of a healthcare assistant who was working 20 hours a day and not being paid. She would visit 18 patients a day and walk more than 10 miles a day, 7 days a week. She had no scheduled time off and ended up with a urine infection because there was no time to go to the toilet. Her work was exhausting and relentless. When she complained, her recruiter threatened to cancel her visa and have her deported. He was a man of influence in her home country and she felt anxious and threatened.

It is a story of exploitation, coercion and manipulation where people are traded and used. They are paid very little money and often in debt to organised crime groups.

We would highly recommend listening to the programme

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Terri's Story (shared in File on Four)

Terri was recruited as a home carer after replying to an advert in her own country. Recruited by an agency in her home country in Africa, Terri was offered work in the UK as a domiciliary carer. The agency told her it would arrange her work visa and transport.

She was interviewed in person, took an English test, and had to provide proof of her work experience. She was promised a job as a care assistant in the UK through a care company. She was told she would earn up to £29,000.

For Terri, who was in an abusive marriage, the job was the perfect opportunity to escape with her three children. "Butterflies were going through me, it was one of the best days of my life," she says.

Terri brought her mother with her to the UK, so she could look after Terri's children. Although Terri would be provided with somewhere to stay through the care company, depending on where she was asked to work, the children and their grandmother went into private rented accommodation.

Terri told us she found her work hours gruelling - up to 20 hours a day - and that she often worked seven days a week. The car she had been promised to travel between clients did not materialise, so she had to walk to appointments.

When Terri eventually received her wages from the company two months later, it worked out at less than £2 an hour, which is illegal.

Terri complained to the care company but it threatened to stop her work and cancel her visa.

She says other carers she got to know also warned her that the firm's owner had political links in her home country.

"That makes him very dangerous where we come from - you don't want to go against someone like that," she told us.

Her low pay meant she was unable to continue paying rent for her mum and children - and they were forced to leave their accommodation.

Terri was on a night shift while her mother and children spent the night on the streets. They were spotted by a member of the public and Terri was reported to social services.

When they asked to see her rota they were shocked. "This is too much, this is insane," she says they told her. Social services helped Terri get placed in the National Referral Mechanism, the government system set up to identify and support victims of modern slavery.

She and her family are now in accommodation provided by social services. Terri is now seeking asylum in the UK - and until a decision is made she isn't allowed to work. The Home Office has told her she has "reasonable grounds" to prove she was a victim of modern slavery.

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