Hundreds of care workers are trapped in modern slavery, forced to work long hours to pay off illegal debts of over £11,000 due to Government failings, a harrowing new report warns.
Labour shortages mean staff recruited from overseas are being preyed on by unscrupulous employers and agencies, leaving them fearful of abusive bosses and struggling with crippling debts. Charity Unseen said last year 712 people, mostly from Asian or African nations, contacted the Modern Slavery & Exploitation Helpline it runs – up from 106 a year earlier.
Unseen said it has identified 1,020 potential victims of modern slavery working in the care sector since January 2022. One, named Janet, said she was charged £10,000 for a certificate of sponsorship by her employer after being recruited from Zimbabwe. In order to pay off the debt she’s had to work 18 hour shifts for 10 days in a row, taking home as little as £200 a month. The report said her employers threatened to harm and her family if they reported the exploitation, and warned she could be deported.
Another, named Divya, had her passport confiscated and was forced to work back-to-back 12 hour shifts without breaks, the study found. Police intervened in her case after she was identified as a victim of modern slavery. More than 430 people said they’ve had their movements restricted, while three quarters said they had been subjected to financial control.
Andrew Wallis, Unseen’s chief executive, said: “This report shows that the current approach of recruiting overseas to address a chronic shortage of care staff in the UK is a disaster for many workers. “As the employee supply chain has got longer and more complicated, labour abuse and exploitation has increased. The Home Office needs to better apply existing laws, particularly the principle of no recruitment fees imposed on the employee, and to ensure proper scrutiny of the employee supply chain by UK care companies and recruitment agencies.
“It is individual workers who are paying the price of this neglect.” The report says: “Many workers travelling to the UK don’t know their rights and by the time they get to their work destination, it’s often too late and they find themselves trapped by debt, fear of abusive employers, or lack of information.
“With the current economic and political climate, we’re likely to see an increase in the number of vulnerable people contacting the Helpline.” It called on better checks and enforcement to ensure care workers aren’t being exploited.
A Government spokeswoman said: “We strongly condemn offering Health and Care Worker visa holders employment under false pretences. The Government does not tolerate illegal activity in the labour market and any accusations of illegal employment practices will be thoroughly looked into. Those found operating unlawfully may face prosecution and/or removal from the sponsorship register.” Mirror