Sharp rise in modern slavery victims in UK care sector

A helpline for victims of modern slavery has reported a significant surge in calls from overseas workers who arrived in the UK to address staffing shortages in the care sector.

Callers have said they had to pay huge sums of money to the people who brought them over after visa rules changed last year, the BBC heard.

The helpline Unseen UK revealed that more than 700 care staff used their services in 2022. It said nearly one in five potential victims of modern slavery worked in the care sector.

Ministers have stated they “strongly condemn” offering foreign care workers work “under false pretences”.

The charity’s latest figures show:

  • In 2021 its helpline was contacted about 15 cases of modern slavery in the care sector, involving 63 potential victims;
  • By 2022 there were 106 cases, involving 708 potential victims;
  • In 2023 the figures have continued to rise.

The report, released on Monday, evidenced that care workers are facing expenses amounting to thousands of pounds for their travel to the UK and sponsorship certificates.

While the typical cost of sponsorship is a few hundred pounds, and typically covered by the majority of care companies, the charity has highlighted unethical practices being taken by “a few unscrupulous employers” who are subjecting workers to charges as high as £25,000, plus interest, and deducting this debt directly from their wages, the BBC said.

As a result these workers are trapped in a cycle where they will never be able to pay off their debt.
Divya and Janet (names changed by the charity to protect their identity) shared distressing experiences after arriving in the UK to work in the care sector.

Divya reported being housed with fellow care workers, all of who had their passports confiscated, and were forced into signing a three-year contract with the care company. She described long and painful back-to-back 12-hour shifts and revealed that one compassionate client provided her with much-needed rest and food when she struggled to make ends meet.

Janet, from Zimbabwe, said that her employer charged her £10,000 for a sponsorship certificate. Her work schedule involved many instances of 18-hour shifts for 10 consecutive days.

The government stated that overseas care workers entering the UK should be paid the required minimum salary. It said: “The government does not tolerate illegal activity in the labour market and any accusations of illegal employment practices will be thoroughly looked into,” said an official.

“Those found operating unlawfully may face prosecution and/or removal from the sponsorship register.”

by Wendy
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