According to a research study carried out by Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham, poor working conditions, insecure employment and imbalances of power all contribute to the risk of labour exploitation for live-in care staff.
Over the past 18 months Dr Caroline Emberson, has been collaborating with other researchers to investigate the vulnerability of paid, migrant, live-in care workers in London to modern slavery.
An understanding of the workers vulnerability
Most live-in care workers in the UK are migrants, and a high proportion travel to and from their home countries between client placements.
Understanding the factors that exacerbate these workers’ vulnerability to exploitation is important because it enables the development of the most appropriate policy responses to minimise risk and harm.
The eradication of modern slavery from supply chains
Dr Emberson states that the research is timely, given the commitment made by the UK government to extend to public sector bodies, including local authorities, the organisational duty to report on the steps that they have taken to eradicate modern slavery from their supply chains.
Local authorities are major purchasers of many different types of home care, which are often delivered through a fragmented network of organisational partners and agencies.
With a new Modern Slavery Bill promised in this year’s Queens Speech, social workers and other local authority staff can have an important part to play in spotting the signs of exploitation and eradicating this form of abuse among the hidden workforce of live-in care workers.
Risk factors for live-in carers
The research findings show five factors that create the conditions for exploitation: • Live-in care workers’ employment status and the business models of live-in care and the role of intermediaries. • The information asymmetry that exists between live-in care workers and the agencies who match them to their clients. • The pressures of live-in care work. • Barriers to exercising rights at work. • Factors related to individual risk and resilience.
Less experienced live-in care workers seem to be at particular risk of exploitation.
Agencies, including introductory agencies, have near-total control of matching care workers and clients, and can hold – or withhold – key information. Participants in the study described how companies took advantage of care workers perceived as less experienced – often migrant workers who had recently moved to the UK or had been specifically recruited to work as a live-in care worker.
It was common for live-in care workers to find themselves in difficult or even hazardous situations when starting a new placement.
Health and safety risks
Inadequate working and living conditions were often mentioned by participants that amounted to health and safety risks. These could include unsanitary working conditions, lack of equipment for safe handling and moving, and inadequate food provision.
When clients are hospitalised or pass away suddenly – not uncommon considering the age and needs of this population – live-in carers do not tend to enjoy employment protections.
They are often asked to leave at short notice with no compensation for lost earnings or are allowed to stay and wait for their flight with no pay, or must take up a new placement without having time to grieve or rest.
How to make things better
Recommendations for policy include: • providing carers with greater freedom to change employer without risk to their immigration status • introducing a registration system for recruitment agencies • an expanded role for the Care Quality Commission in ensuring carers’ employment rights are respected • local authorities to carry out regular audits of live-in carers’ working conditions.
This research found that migrant live-in care workers in London are at risk to modern slavery. There is an imbalance in power. On the one hand you have migrant workers looking for employment with acceptable pay and working conditions and some inscrutable employers on the other who are taking advantage of them.
There is urgent need for CQC registration of the recruitment agencies, and local authority contracts that include evidence requirements that ensure workers rights, pay and working conditions and auditing of care workers living conditions.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute Managing Director Bettal Quality Consultancy