When Brexit happened, many care workers from the EU left the UK. The care sector was already short of workers, and Brexit made this worse. In 2021/2022, there were 164,000 social care vacancies in England. Low pay and a high staff turnover are key characteristics of this sector. In response to the worsening shortages, in February 2022, the UK government placed care work on the shortage occupation list. This move allowed employers to bring workers from overseas to fill vacancies.
Since then, 70,000 people have entered the UK to work as carers. They are mainly from non-EU countries. Since then, reports of exploitation and abuse in the care sector have risen sharply. In early 2022, there were 12 cases and 54 potential victims. By June 2023, there were 170 cases and 1020 potential victims. Calls to the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline relating to care sector workers have been increasing at a faster and faster rate.
The abuse and exploitation take a variety of forms. Some migrants pay thousands just to get the job in the UK. As a result, they may already be in debt when they get here. The employer then deducts the debt from their minimum wage earnings. There are reports of employers housing the workers in overcrowded conditions, taking away their passports and forcing them to work long shifts without breaks. Care workers from overseas are often not aware of their employment rights. This lack of awareness makes it easy for unscrupulous employers to break the law and abuse their staff.
These facts come from a report by Unseen, a charity working towards a world without slavery. Here is a case study from this report (the name and nationality have been changed).
Janet was recruited from Zimbabwe to work in a residential care home. She did not receive a contract, and her employer charged her £10,000 for a certificate of sponsorship. She was then forced to work more than her agreed hours, sometimes working 18-hour shifts for up to 10 days in a row.
Janet should have been paid the National Minimum Wage. However, deductions were made from her pay to recoup the £10,000, leaving her with as little as £200 per month. On some days she could not afford to eat. If she complained or spoke up about her rights, her employer threatened to report her to the Home Office and have her deported. They had also threatened to harm Janet and her family in Zimbabwe if she reported the situation.
Employers must have a sponsorship licence to employ workers from abroad. A licence imposes responsibilities on these employers. The Home Office is supposed to monitor these licences; however, dishonesty and exploitation occur within this sector despite the licence system.
A multitude of problems already beset the care sector, and this latest trend only serves to turn a new life into a life of misery for some migrant care workers.
Modern Slavery and Exploitation helpline run by Unseen: 08000 121 7000.
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