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HomeHeadline newsSurging abuse in UK care jobs shatters migrants’ dreams

Surging abuse in UK care jobs shatters migrants’ dreams

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WHEN Indian office manager Maya heard of an opportunity to work as a carer in Britain she jumped at the chance to gain overseas experience and send money home, but she is now heavily in debt and says she and colleagues were “treated like slaves”.

The mother-of-two is among tens of thousands of overseas carers who have arrived in Britain under an initiative launched in 2022 to plug massive staff shortages in the country’s creaking social care system.

But reports of exploitation have sky-rocketed since the scheme’s introduction, with one migration expert describing the care sector as “a complete wild west”.

Maya and other care workers said they ended up working long days for little money after paying thousands of pounds to an agent in India to secure jobs with a care company in the north of England.

They said staff were too scared to complain in case they were sacked, which would put them at risk of deportation because their visa was tied to their employment.

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“We’ve thought about going back to India but how would we survive with so much debt? We’re trapped,” said Maya, who asked to use a pseudonym for fear of repercussions.

“I pledged my home to the bank to get the loan to come here … and all our relatives lent us money.”

Jane Townson, chief executive of the Homecare Association which represents domiciliary care providers, said the sector was very concerned about unethical operators, adding there were “shameful and outrageous” stories of people being scammed for huge sums or housed in “cockroach infested hovels”.

In some cases, people were promised jobs in Britain only to discover there was no work when they arrived. Others were laid off after their employer went bust or lost contracts.

“They are having to rely on foodbanks and charities,” Townson added. “A lot are in debt bondage. They have sold everything to come here.”

Modern slavery

The Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority – a public body that investigates worker exploitation – said it had conducted 44 investigations into care businesses last year, double the number in 2022 and up from just one in 2020.

Unpublished estimates by anti-slavery charity Unseen indicate that cases of modern slavery in the care sector reported to its helpline potentially involved at least 800 victims last year, up from just 63 in 2021.

Public service union UNISON said the actual figure would be higher as many carers do not report abuses for fear of deportation, or do not know where to seek help.

“A lot of these employers are chancing their arm,” said UNISON’s social care expert Gavin Edwards.

“The power relationship is just so skewed and that’s why some of the unscrupulous ones can get away with this.”

He said acute underfunding of Britain’s care sector and the prevalence of organisations putting profits first had created “a race to the bottom”.

Britain opened a new visa route for overseas carers in early 2022 to help fill some 165,000 vacancies in the sector following the Covid-19 pandemic and Britain’s departure from the European Union.

About 140,000 carers have since been granted visas, according to official data, predominantly from India, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

Maya’s story began in April 2022 when she enlisted an Indian agent called Rishin Stanley in the southern city of Kochi to help find a job sponsor. She said she was asked for payments totalling more than £10,000.

Former colleagues told similar stories. Some paid even more.

When one of them queried the steep sums, the agent replied that sponsorship was expensive.

But after arriving in Britain, the women were shocked to discover that it is the employer who covers sponsorship costs.

Companies hiring foreign staff have to pay for a licence, a certificate of sponsorship for each worker and other charges of up to £5,000 per worker. These fees cannot be passed on to employees.

The carers said they paid some of the money to the agent, but were asked to transfer up to £5,000 pounds to a British bank account they said belonged to Ease Healthcare, the company sponsoring them.

Deepa, another carer who also asked to use a pseudonym, was told the payment was for accommodation and administration fees, but received no breakdown and was only given housing for a few weeks.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation was shown correspondence between Stanley and Ease Healthcare, which is based in the city of Sheffield. The sign-off stated he worked for a company called IMTP.

But Stanley told the Thomson Reuters Foundation he had never helped anyone get a job in Britain. He said he had not heard of Ease Healthcare or IMTP, despite being listed as a regional representative on IMTP’s website.

IMTP’s managing director Sasidharan Nambiar said the company did not organise jobs for carers, but that Stanley did this as a sideline.

‘UNPAID WORK’

Ease Healthcare – which supplies staff to local authorities – hired the women to work as domiciliary carers, helping elderly, disabled and sick people in their homes.

A job offer letter promised an annual salary of £20,480 for a 39-hour week, the minimum pay level for overseas carers in 2022.

Ease Healthcare’s letter provided Stanley’s email for queries.

The carers said their days started at 7am and ended late at night, leaving little time to sleep.

They said they were only paid for appointments – which is normal in home care – but that these fell short of 39 hours a week.

Although not constantly working, they said they had to remain on call.

The carers had to log their hours via an app, but said these were often changed and they were not paid for all their work.

“In India we thought there was no exploitation or slavery in Britain,” said Deepa. “We thought Britain was safe because it had rules and regulations.”

Ease Healthcare’s director Essie Manomano denied the carers’ allegations and said no one was underpaid, treated badly or threatened with dismissal.

A spokesperson for Britain’s Home Office said it was “committed to stamping out exploitation” and would investigate cases where carers had been asked for large sums.

The government is introducing a new rule this week meaning care providers can only sponsor migrant workers if regulated by the Care Quality Commission, an independent watchdog.

(Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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