Modern UK slavery victims doubled with concern cast in the care sector

A leading anti-slavery charity has stated that the number of potential victims in the UK have more than doubled, with a particular sharp increase falling on alleged exploitation in the care sector.

Unseen, an anti-slavery charity running Modern Slavery Helpline, conducted its annual assessment of calls to the helpline and discovered 6,516 victims last year, which is a staggering increase of 116% from 2021.

woman standing near person in wheelchair near green grass field

Alongside this, the charity noted that the most notable trend in labour exploitation occurred in the care sector, amid concerns about labour shortages and low pay in care homes. Within the sector, the number of potential victims rose from 106 in 2021 to 708 last year.

Examining further, the charity claimed the exploitation of Indian, Zimbabwean and Nigerian nationals was particularly prominent. The report by the charity said: ‘For the first time, these nationalities have been indicated in situations of forced labour to a range of care settings.’

The report explained the context of exploitation concerns in the care sector. It said: ‘The care sector has always been an area where forced labour could be present because of the use of temporary labour and the levels of low pay.’

Against this backdrop, towards the end of last year it was found that the average care worker earns less than over 80% of the wider UK workforce. Research from Skills for Care highlighted that NHS healthcare assistants new to their roles are earning £1 an hour more than the average independent care worker, while the hourly wage gap between new and experience care staff was just 7p, as of March 2022.

Official statistics released this month showed that the number of potential victims of modern slavery was running at record levels from January to March this year. However, there are concerns that the government’s illegal migration bill will make it harder to rescue modern slavery victims, because it proposes removing them from the UK before they can be named as victims.

Justine Carter, Director at Unseen, said: ‘To be serious about tackling modern slavery in the UK, we need much more awareness of the true size of the problem, better support for victims, and get many more resources going into targeting the criminals behind the exploitation.

‘Instead, the UK is bringing in new migration laws that criminalise some victims of modern slavery, forcing them underground and keeping them vulnerable to traffickers. We should be doing more to expose the extent of slavery, not driving it further into the shadows.’

As well as highlighted severe slavery concerns in the care sector, the helpline also recorded 479 reports of sexual exploitation, an increase of 66% on the previous year. Instances of sexual exploitation made up of 19% of all modern slavery cases.

Image: Josh Appel


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