Slave traffickers in modern times take advantage of a scarcity of care workers

Since this time last year, the number of instances of modern slavery that have been documented inside the care business in the UK has more than doubled.

Between the months of January and March, there were 109 prospective victims who were exploited for personal or financial benefit, which is twice as many as there were during the same time period in 2022.

The information was received by File on Four from the anti-slavery hotline that is government-approved and administered by the charity Unseen.

A “high priority” for investigators whose mission is to prevent the exploitation of employees in the care industry is now the sector in question.

We were informed by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), whose mission is to prevent people in the United Kingdom from being exploited on the job, that there are 17 investigations into the care industry that are now underway and that the organization is reviewing more than 300 pieces of information.

According to Unseen, the reason why there has been a surge in the number of calls about the care industry in the last year is because the government has made it easier for social care employees to work in the UK after Brexit – in order to fill thousands of job openings.

According to the organization, the longer the supply chain is, the more opportunities there are for unethical business practices.

In the year that ended in March, the government had given a total of 102,000 visas to foreign employees under the categories of skilled worker, health and care worker. This is an increase of 171% compared to the previous year. It said in a statement that more than £17.8 million had been spent on policing modern slavery since 2016. This information was provided to File on 4.

One lady who came to the United Kingdom on a work visa and was forced to work arduous hours as a caretaker has shared her experience with us. It is very uncommon to hear directly from a victim of modern slavery in person, but this woman has done so.

After responding to an advertisement in her own country, Terri was hired to work as a house caretaker.

Because she is still terrified of her previous employers, we will refer to her only as Terri in order to safeguard her anonymity.

Terri was given the opportunity to work as a domiciliary care worker in the UK after being approached by an organization in her own country in Africa. The employment agency assured her that it would take care of arranging her transportation and work visa.

She was required to do an in-person interview, take an English exam, and present documentation of her previous employment experience. She had a job as a care assistant in the United Kingdom offered to her by a care firm. They informed her that she could make up to £29,000 per year.

Terri, who was in an abusive marriage, saw the position as the ideal chance to flee with her three children and get away from her husband.

She states that “butterflies were going through me” and that the day in question was one of the happiest of her life.

Terri has her mother living with her in the United Kingdom so that she can help take care of Terri’s children. The children and their grandmother moved into a private leased residence despite the fact that Terri would be given a place to stay via the care business, depending on where she was requested to work.

Terri shared with us that she was required to work long hours (up to 20 per day) and that she often had to put in overtime seven days a week. Due to the fact that the promised automobile for her to use while traveling between clients did not appear, she had to walk to all of her appointments.

After waiting for two months, Terri finally got her earnings from the employer, but they came up to less than £2 per hour, which is against the law. For their time at appointments as well as travel time to and from the office, care workers who are aged 23 or older are required to be paid at least the National Living Wage, which is currently set at £10.42 per hour.

Terri voiced her concerns to the care firm, but they responded by threatening to terminate her employment and revoke her visa.

She claims that other caretakers whom she came to know told her as well that the owner of the company had political affiliations in the nation in which she was born.

She warned us not to get into a fight with someone of his caliber, stating, “he makes him extremely dangerous where we come from; you don’t want to go against someone like him.”

Because of her poor wages, she was unable to continue paying the rent for her mother and her children. Thus, they had to find new housing.

While Terri’s mother and children were sleeping outside, she had to work the night shift at her job. Someone from the general public saw them, and as a result, Terri’s situation was brought to the attention of social services.

They couldn’t believe it when she showed them her schedule when they requested to view it. She claims that they told her, “This is too much, this is insanity,” and she believes that they said it.

The social services were of assistance. It is essential that Terri be sent to the National Referral Mechanism, which is a government program designed to locate and assist people who have been victims of modern slavery.

She and her family are now living in housing made available by social services and are receiving assistance from the nonprofit organization Causeway. Terri is now submitting an asylum application in the United Kingdom; however, she is only able to find employment once a decision has been reached on her case.

According to the Home Office, she has “reasonable grounds” to establish that she was a victim of modern slavery.

While Terri was working the night shift, her mother and children had little choice but to sleep in uncomfortable conditions.

According to Ian Waterfield, Head of Enforcement at the government-sponsored GLAA, the care firm where Terri worked is presently the subject of an investigation by another government body in connection with the skilled worker visa process in the United Kingdom. Over the course of the previous 18 months, he claims that the care business has gone from “not being on their radar” to being a “top priority.”

Slavery in its modern form has made its way into a number of different industries, including the construction industry and the car wash industry.

In 2022, the National Referral Mechanism referred a total of over 17,000 possible victims to the Home Office. This was the most significant number of prospective victims ever recorded in the history of the program.

The National Police Chief’s Council informed us that it had a dedicated team that was leading the initiative to “understand and solve” the issue and that there were now more than 3,500 ongoing investigations taking place throughout England and Wales.

However, the process of prosecuting charges may be challenging. During the course of the previous year, police forces in England and Wales recorded approximately 10,000 instances. However, since the perpetrators couldn’t be located, half of these investigations were terminated, and fewer than 2% resulted in charges being filed.

According to Sara Thornton, who served as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner before taking on her current role, “victims of contemporary slavery are highly vulnerable.”

“They will be in fear of the people who have trafficked or enslaved them, who will tell them there’s no sense in going to the police or the local authorities or a charity because they won’t help you,” the author writes. “They will be in fear of the people who have trafficked or enslaved them.”

According to Ms. Thornton, the Illegal Migration Bill, which became law only last week, would make it much more challenging to provide assistance to victims who are vulnerable. The new legislation gives the government the authority to legally hold and expel any and all individuals who enter the UK illegally.

She believes that human traffickers would use this to urge their victims not to go to the police, and she also feels that the lack of an anti-slavery commissioner in situ right now is “a major, horrible issue.”

Terri is still struggling with the aftereffects of the ordeal she went through. She adds, “There are moments when I still have nightmares about what went down at that job, and it’s because of what happened there.”

She has decided that she wants to become a nurse.

A previous version of this article said, based on numbers provided by the GLAA, that there were 300 investigations into the care industry that were still underway. Since then, the GLAA has informed us that the actual number is 17, which represents the number of investigations and intelligence reports combined. The article has been modified to reflect these changes.

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