Overseas care staff 'trapped by fees and threats of deportation'
Charity helpline sees rise in calls by care workers recruited from overseas amid shortage of UK care staff, echoing reported exploitation of overseas nurses
Overseas care workers have reported being trapped in jobs by unfair fees, threats of being deported or fear of being made homeless amid a surge in suspected modern slavery cases.
A report by charity Unseen, which runs a modern slavery and exploitation helpline, features harrowing examples of abuse and forced labour with many victims subject to ‘debt bondage’ and other forms of financial control.
One woman who was recruited to work in a residential care home was charged £10,000 by her employer for a certificate of sponsorship.
Deductions were made from her wages to repay the sum, leaving her with as little as £200 a month.
Care home worker’s complaints were met with threat to have her deported
‘On some days she could not afford to eat,’ said the report. ‘If she complained or spoke up about her rights, her employer threatened to report her to the Home Office and have her deported.’
Unseen said the number of calls to its helpline, on 08000 121 700, from those working in the care sector had shot up in 2022 and continued to rise this year.
It identified 712 potential victims of exploitation from the care sector in 2022, making up almost a fifth or 18% of suspected victims from all sectors.
A total of 106 cases of modern slavery in care settings were reported last year, up from just seven in 2017.
Recruiting overseas to address shortage of care staff seen as a disaster for many workers
Unseen chief executive Andrew Wallis 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.’
He called on the Home Office to tighten up the application of existing laws designed to protect overseas workers from paying recruitment fees and ensure proper scrutiny of the employee supply chain.
The report echoes warnings from unions who say they have seen a rise in overseas-trained nurses being exploited by unscrupulous recruitment agencies and social care employers who demand huge fees for finding them jobs and accommodation.
Nearly three quarters of victims who contacted Unseen’s helpline in the first six months of this year were affected by some form of financial control, including excessive fees for breaking contracts.
A quarter of victims had suffered emotional abuse, including racial abuse
Other forms of control included transporting staff to and from work and threats such as cutting working hours or not providing references, while nearly a quarter of victims had suffered emotional abuse, including racial abuse.
The charity said the rise in calls could be down to increased awareness of modern slavery, but also said staffing shortages in care settings were exacerbated by Brexit and the pandemic, which had led to more workers being ‘recruited at speed without safeguarding in place’.
RCN deputy chief nurse Nicola Ashby described the exploitation exposed in the report as heinous.
She said: ‘The lack of investment in the domestic workforce in the health and care has created an environment where services are desperate to recruit internationally, and unscrupulous employers and agencies are taking advantage of those that come to the UK. The evidence presented is horrendous. The government has a responsibility to act urgently to protect migrant staff providing care.’
A government spokesperson said: ‘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.’
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