Sharp Increase in Calls to Modern Slavery Helpline In The UK from Care Professionals

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UK (Parliament Politic Magazine) –  A surge in calls to a national helpline for victims of modern slavery is being attributed to an increasing number of overseas workers who arrived in the UK to fill staffing shortages within the care sector.

 Many of these individuals reported having paid substantial sums to the individuals who facilitated their entry into the country, particularly in light of changes to visa regulations implemented the previous year.

Organization Operating The Helpline Provide Reports 

Unseen UK, the organization operating the helpline, reported that in 2022, it received calls from over 700 care staff seeking assistance. Government ministers have unequivocally criticized the practice of luring foreign care workers into employment “under false pretences.”

The charity’s most recent data reveals the following:

  • In 2021, the helpline dealt with 15 cases of modern slavery in the care sector, which involved 63 potential victims.
  • By 2022, the number of cases had risen to 106, affecting 708 potential victims.
  • The upward trend in these figures has continued into 2023.
  • In 2022, nearly one in five of the potential modern slavery victims identified by the charity were employed within the care sector.

The report, released on Monday, highlights that certain workers are facing exorbitant expenses, including travel costs to the UK and sponsorship certificates.

Typically, sponsorship costs amount to just a few hundred pounds, a sum covered by the majority of care companies. 

Situation Creates Distressing Cycle For The Workers 

The report asserts that this situation has created a distressing cycle for the affected workers, making it virtually impossible for them to ever clear their debt.

Divya, whose identity has been safeguarded by the charity, reached out to the helpline upon her arrival in the UK from India, where she had come to work in the field of home care.

She revealed that she shared accommodation with four other care workers, and their passports were confiscated. Additionally, they were compelled to sign a binding three-year contract with the care company. Divya also reported a grueling schedule, where she would conclude a 12-hour shift only to be swiftly ushered into another 12-hour shift by her employer.

According to the report, a compassionate client allowed her to rest during a shift and provided her with food, as her earnings were insufficient to cover basic necessities.

Janet, another individual whose name has been altered for privacy, arrived from Zimbabwe and disclosed that her employer demanded a staggering £10,000 for a sponsorship certificate. She also recounted enduring 18-hour shifts, laboring for ten consecutive days.

Changes in Visa Regulations

In February 2022, the government introduced significant revisions to the visa regulations related to care work. These changes categorized care work as a “shortage” occupation, facilitating the recruitment of a greater number of individuals from overseas to serve in care homes or provide home care. 

The primary objective was to address the extensive shortfall of social care personnel, which had reached a staggering 164,000 vacancies in England during the 2021/22 period.

Subsequently, there has been a modest reduction in these vacancies, largely attributable to the influx of approximately 70,000 individuals who have come to the UK to contribute to the field of care, as reported by Skills for Care.

However, Andrew Wallis, the CEO of Unseen, criticizes the current approach, highlighting that it has given rise to an increase in “labor exploitation and abuse.” He describes the situation as nothing short of a “disaster” for many workers, emphasizing that individuals who are themselves vulnerable are now responsible for caring for equally vulnerable individuals.

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Concerned About The Risk of Deportation

Mary Anson, overseeing five care homes in Cornwall, shares a troubling account of encountering two foreign care workers who were brought to the UK by a home-care agency but subsequently left without any employment. Ms. Anson is now in the process of assuming responsibility for their sponsorship.

She underscores the deep-seated fear among overseas care workers that disclosing the mistreatment they’ve experienced could lead to deportation. According to Ms. Anson, these individuals urgently require a secure avenue to report the injustices they’ve endured.

She has successfully recruited 20 individuals from overseas who possess both skills and compassion. However, she raises doubts about the authenticity of certain companies involved in recruiting from abroad, questioning whether they genuinely qualify as legitimate care providers.

Beth Malcolm

Beth Malcolm is Scottish based Journalist at Heriot-Watt University studying French and British Sign Language. She is originally from the north west of England but is living in Edinburgh to complete her studies.