The issue of widespread exploitation of overseas carers recruited to the UK has become a top priority for the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the agency tasked with investigating worker-related criminality in England and Wales. The GLAA has expressed its concerns about the abuse of the Health and Care Worker visa system, leading to a surge in allegations of fraud and modern slavery. This has prompted more than 30 ongoing investigations into care agencies operating illegally, with the GLAA admitting that the full extent of the problem remains unclear.
The GLAA’s Senior Investigating Officer, Martin Plimmer, highlighted the urgency of the situation, stating that care is now the agency’s primary focus. Just two years ago, the care sector was not on their radar, but since care workers were added to the Shortage Occupation List in February 2022, enabling overseas recruitment, cases have dramatically increased.
Plimmer described how certain companies have been established nationwide with the sole intention of exploiting vulnerable workers desperate to come to the UK. These criminals use these individuals as “cash cows,” operating their businesses at a reduced cost by underpaying workers and charging them excessive fees.
As the problem escalates, the victims of this exploitation, including overseas care workers, are facing dire circumstances. They often rely on food banks to survive, and the situation becomes increasingly challenging when they find themselves trapped and unable to return to their home countries. Some illegal recruiters operate within the UK, establishing fake and fraudulent care agencies.
One such victim, known as ‘Mary,’ shared her experience of seeking work in the UK to support her family back in the Philippines. She was enticed by the promise of better earnings but soon found herself in a precarious situation, unable to return home or report the agency due to fear. This is just one example of how vulnerable individuals are exploited by unscrupulous actors.
Certain companies have been established nationwide with the sole intention of exploiting vulnerable workers desperate to come to the UK.
The problem extends to legitimate care providers, who have reported being inundated with calls from unknown care agencies offering their services. Some new agencies even offer to work for free to secure business, raising concerns about the quality and safety of the care provided.
Neil Russell, who runs PJ Care in Milton Keynes and Peterborough, highlighted the desperation of some of these new agencies, underscoring their fly-by-night nature. Such practices pose a significant risk to residents in care homes and the quality of care they receive.
Russell emphasised that some of these practices closely resemble people trafficking, with illegitimate recruiters charging exorbitant fees to bring workers to the UK, sometimes exceeding the fees charged for illegal migration via perilous routes.
In response to the issue, the Home Office has condemned the fraudulent employment of Health and Care Worker visa holders and pledged to thoroughly investigate any accusations of illegal employment practices.
This situation underscores the urgent need for oversight and regulation to protect both overseas care workers and the vulnerable individuals who rely on their services. Addressing this growing problem is essential to ensure ethical recruitment practices and the safety of those in need of care in the UK.
Keith Rosser, Director at Reed Screening commented: “In my role as Chair of JobsAware and as a Non Executive Board Member of the GLAA I hear all too many cases like these.
The Better Hiring Institute launched a Better Hiring Toolkit for the Care sector on GOV UK in January, this toolkit covers:
– working with recruitment agencies;
– having a transparent supply chain;
– reporting issues to government and other bodies; and
– loads more free help and advice.
I implore care organisations to use the toolkit to help stop these terrible incidents. Report scams, illegals immigration abuse, and worker rights issues at www.jobsaware.co.uk”