Home » British social care agencies accused of exploiting foreign care workers, providing limited or no employment

British social care agencies accused of exploiting foreign care workers, providing limited or no employment

British social care agencies have been accused of exploiting foreign workers, leaving many struggling to pay off debts incurred while securing jobs that often fail to materialize.

This comes as many workers across 11 care providers stated that they paid thousands to agents for UK care home jobs, only to find limited or no employment upon arrival.

Experts argue the ban doesn’t address the core issue of worker exploitation, leaving many in the UK in poverty, afraid to leave their employers due to visa concerns.

What they are saying

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) therefore called on all major parties to demand a government inquiry into the treatment of migrant care workers.

The acting general secretary of the RCN, Prof. Nicola Ranger said,

“The exploitation of migrant care workers is a national scandal but little has been done to tackle it.”

 “A chronically understaffed social care sector has supercharged its recruitment of staff from overseas and a lack of regulation and enforcement has allowed some employers to profit from the mistreatment of migrants.”

 “An urgent government investigation into exploitation across the social care sector must be a priority for whoever wins the general election. Lives are being ruined daily and this work has to start as soon as possible.”

David Neal, who had raised the alarm about the care visa system when he was the government’s borders inspector, said: “As soon as we looked at social care visas, we realized there was exploitation going on.”

“Throughout my inspection, I was thinking of the Windrush scandal and there are echoes of it here: the state inviting workers to come to this country to help us in the labour market and then abandoning them.”

Lawyers say UK care providers who promise regular full-time work and then offer exploitative or underpaid jobs on arrival may have broken the law. The sponsorship system means an individual’s visa status is tied to a particular employer, meaning many feel trapped.

Johanna White, a solicitor at the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit, a charity, said: “I can see what look like indicators of trafficking and modern slavery.

“In many cases, there appears to have been deceptive recruitment, with the individuals being given false information and promises to induce them to pay large fees upfront to the agents for the opportunity to live and work in the UK, being left vulnerable to forced labour, financial exploitation or both.”

UK’s care industry and foreign workers

The care industry has turned to foreign workers in large numbers to address labor shortages caused by Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

In 2023, the government issued 350,000 health and care visas to workers and their dependents, making up 75% of all skilled worker visas. However, with the rise in numbers, abuse of the system appears to have increased as well.

According to media reports, workers from India and others from sub-Saharan Africa faced similar issues. They all reported paying immigration agents, and sometimes the care providers themselves, several thousand pounds in fees for a visa to work in a care home or as a carer in people’s homes.

Agents promised the fees would cover the visa, flights, a month’s accommodation, and guaranteed full-time work earning over £20,000 a year, which would quickly pay off any debt.

Shortly before arriving in the UK, workers were told they had to pay for their flights and find their own accommodation. Upon arrival, many did not get the promised jobs, with little to no work available or hours and pay much lower than promised.

Some employers encouraged them to find casual work elsewhere, allowed under their visa terms, or pressured them to work as drivers or cleaners, forcing many to rely on food banks, shared rooms, and even beds with other immigrants to survive.

Complaints about conditions were often met with threats of sponsorship removal and deportation. Some workers also reported their families being threatened by Indian-based immigration agents if they spoke out.

A Home Office spokesperson said,

“We prevent overseas care workers from entering the United Kingdom without genuine roles or fair pay to safeguard against destitution.

“Illegal labour market activities face zero tolerance; we enforce strict measures against exploitative care providers. The number of visas granted has been reduced as we tackle noncompliance and abuse head-on.”

Six of the 11 employers identified by the Guardian have had their licenses to bring in foreign care workers suspended or cancelled, while the other five still retain this ability.

Most care workers who spoke to the Guardian remain in the UK. Some have found employment with new sponsors, but many are working irregular shifts as cleaners or drivers, often for below minimum wage, to survive.

Neal said the system allowing companies to issue certificates of sponsorship, typically used for high-end professional jobs, is inappropriate for the care industry where exploitation is common. Many are now burdened with huge debts back home, forced to work irregular jobs for below minimum wage.

Anyone in this area knew this was the wrong way to get more people into the social care sector,” he said.

Labour and the Conservatives are now faced with the pressure to address this issue ahead of next month’s election.

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