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Home Office Warned Migrant Care Workers Face Exploitation Risk

Home Secretary James Cleverly (Alamy)

3 min read

A coalition of academics and charities working with migrants in the care sector have called on the Home Office to urgently address issues of migrant exploitation in the care sector.

Since the end of EU free movement starting at the end of 2020, the UK’s care sector has been suffering ongoing and rising labour shortages. To fill these needs, the Government added care work to the Shortage Occupation List, and expanded the Health and Care Worker visa, without investing in the care sector or making sure that appropriate safeguards and policies were in place.  

In a letter to Home Secretary James Cleverly, signatories warn of a “significant increase in reports of severe exploitation” with issues including illegal recruitment fees, exorbitant repayment clauses, non-payment of wages, debt bondage and excessive overtime.

Data collected by the charity Unseen, showed a 606 per cent increase in the number of modern slavery cases in the care sector from 2021 to 2022. 

“We have been warning the government of the need to address the risks of exploitation in the care sector since the end of free movement,” Peter Wieltschnig of Focus on Labour Exploitation, told PoliticsHome. “It’s evident that the government has failed to listen or take action.”

The government has announced new immigration rules which it says will reduce the number of people able to move to the UK. The new rules will mean migrant care workers who do not work for the NHS will no longer be able to bring dependent relatives with them to the UK from April.

“It is shameful that the government, in addressing the needs of the sector, has focussed solely on restricting workers’ right to be joined by their dependents,” Jamila Duncan-Bosu, a solicitor at the Anti Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, told PoliticsHome

Instead of taking further steps to ensure the needs of those in the care sector are met and protected from exploitation, Nazek Ramadan of Migrant Voice felt that the government is placing migrants at more risk of exploitation with its “restrictive immigration rules” and “hostile rhetoric”.

“We have deep concerns that the recent changes will only mean that migrants are seen as a resource rather than people,” Ramadan said. “The dehumanising nature of the way in which migrants are treated feeds into a system where exploitation becomes inevitable rather than avoidable.”

Several recommendations were made such as implementing a national care service, establishing a single labour market enforcement body, extending periods for workers to find a new employer without losing immigration status, and ensuring recruitment of workers only takes place via agencies on the ‘ethical recruiters list’. 

A Home Office spokesperson acknowledged they have “seen significant abuse of those working in the care sector”, and in response, “announced that providers in England will only be able to sponsor migrant workers if they are undertaking activities regulated by the Care Quality Commission”.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused Government of “turning their backs on serious exploitation problems” in social care. 

"Labour would crack down on exploitation and abuse in the visa system, introduce a new plan to support the social care workforce, and reform the points-based system, ending the unfair 20 per cent discount, and linking it properly to training in the UK,” she added.

Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron insisted that “all social care workers should be valued and be able to work free from exploitation”. He added: “I am concerned that enforcement of labour standards in the sector is significantly under-resourced - it is unacceptable that migrant workers caring for our most vulnerable are increasingly being subject to exploitation and poor treatment.”

 

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