Modern Slavery In Care Homes: What You Need To Know

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Modern Slavery In Care Homes: What You Need To Know

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Laura Spence

Modern slavery refers to situations of exploitation in which a person cannot refuse or leave because of threat, violence, coercion, deception and abuse of power. Modern slavery is scarily high within the UK, increasing year on year with over 16,000 victims reported in 2022. The actual number is supposedly much higher, costing the UK taxpayer £33 billion per year.

Ongoing conflict, political instability and forced displacement are key drivers…

What governs slavery in the UK?

UK businesses have the benefit of the Modern Slavery Act, which outlines how businesses should handle and report slavery and human trafficking. A key requirement is that companies must report on slavery issues, including their due diligence processes. Unfortunately, since coming into effect in 2015, the Act has received a lot of criticism. Only companies with turnovers of over £35 million are subject to the reporting requirement, naturally excluding many small businesses where abuse is most prevalent. Further, with no statutory guidance or strict enforcement, the Act is difficult to interpret and rarely complied with.

Uncovered victims are often subject to immigration laws, facing criminalising and deportation.

So where does that leave us?

Employers are getting this wrong, leaving them vulnerable to civil and criminal penalties. Victims are not uncovered, due to lack of public authority funding and through fear of being subject to hostile immigration laws.

Modern slavery in social care

Forced labour is one of the most common forms of modern slavery which, unfortunately, is particularly prevalent in social care.

Immigration restrictions following Brexit and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic have resulted in a huge loss of social care workers in the UK. Severe understaffing led the Government to include care workers on the occupation shortage list in 2021, thus allowing recruitment from overseas. 106 calls were made to modern slavery helplines from care homes in 2021, increasing to 708 last year. Helplines found most victims were from India, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

Recruitment agencies have jumped at the understaffing problem, operating fake and fraudulent agencies to resource care homes.

Known risk factors:

  • Live-in care workers who work in private households, often isolated, and with limited community connections.
  • Individual employers not being familiar with the relevant regulations (or not being subject to reporting obligations due to the size of the business).
  • Gendered nature/specific work.
  • Blurred boundaries between care work and domestic work, home and the workplace.
  • Lack of resources for public funds for some groups of migrants, or the pressure to send money home, making them reliant on work.

How can your business overcome this?

Care providers have a responsibility to understand and recognise the risks of modern slavery in the sector. Regulatory and Healthcare Partner, Jenny Wilde says “It goes without saying that providers must be diligent in the way that they recruit and pay their own staff, but they must also be confident that the agencies which they use to provide temporary staff are treating staff appropriately. That means obtaining confirmation of the relevant identity checks and training of agency staff.” 

Other protective measures include:

  • Implementing a watertight policy on modern slavery. This often gets integrated into other policies. Keeping it separate and easy to find will allow staff to access the information quickly.  
  • Agency pay rates should fairly reflect the nature of the work and skills of carers.
  • Standardised risk assessments of both the condition of the property and the care plan are to be conducted by both staffing and introductory agencies.
  • Training staff on warning signs. Common physical and behavioural signs that victims show include:
  • Refusal to give their name or contact information
  • No identification documents
  • Appearing malnourished or dishevelled
  • Appearing fearful or scared of staff or authorities
  • Inappropriate clothing

Concerns should be raised promptly, with the appropriate authorities or the CQC.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss modern slavery more, please feel free to get in touch with us. Our specialist employment and immigration lawyers would be happy to assist.

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