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The vulnerability of paid migrant live-in care workers in London to modern slavery

This report presents research evidence from interviews and focus groups conducted with migrant live-in care workers designed to identify the potential risks and drivers of labour exploitation.

The research was funded by Trust for London and the report was jointly authored by researchers from the Institute of Public Care (Agnes Turnpenny), The University of Nottingham, The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and FLEX.

Live-in care represents a specific segment of England’s adult social care sector. Live-in care workers stay in their client’s home and provide around-the-clock presence, and personal assistance as required with activities of daily living (for example, dressing and washing) to enable people with care and support needs to live independently in the community or remain at home with intensive and specialised support (as opposed to moving to a care home for example).

Labour exploitation is defined as work situations that deviate significantly from standard working conditions as set out by legislation or other binding legal regulations concerning remuneration, working hours, leave, entitlements, health and safety standards and decent treatment. Severe labour exploitation includes coercive practices such as slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour and trafficking.

In the UK, there have been longstanding concerns about labour market non-compliance and exploitation in adult social care. The Director of Labour Market Enforcement identified the sector as high risk. Live-in care workers are believed to be particularly vulnerable due to various reasons:

  • Live-in care workers who work in private households are often isolated and have limited community connections
  • Individual employers are not necessarily familiar with the relevant regulations
  • Live-in care is commonly undertaken by migrants, often directly recruited from abroad or circular/temporary migrants for whom the availability of accommodation is an important consideration. Lack of recourse to public funds or the pressure to send remittances home makes them more reliant on their work and creates barriers to quitting
  • Standard definitions of working time and on-call time have not been applied to live-in care work
  • Boundaries between care work and domestic work, home and workplace can become blurred when the care worker lives with the client 24/7
  • Care workers are dependent on employers and clients for housing and work.

The drivers of exploitation identified in the report centre around remuneration, working conditions, and operational practices including debt bondage. Such risks may have been further exacerbated by individual and societal responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and changes introduced to the UK immigration system after Brexit.

The forthcoming modern slavery legislation makes the publication of this report especially timely as it helps to identify the risks and drivers of severe forms of exploitation in the context of increasingly fragmented labour supply chains in social care, particularly live-in care.

23 August 2022

The vulnerability of paid migrant live-in care workers in London to modern slavery