A new report based on research led by Nottingham Rights Lab in partnership with FLEX, the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has identified the factors that put live-in migrant carers at greater risk of exploitation and modern slavery.
Following an 18-month study into the working conditions of paid, migrant, live-in care workers in London, the report explores what can be done to mitigate these risks and sets our recommendations for policy changes to reduce workers’ vulnerability to labour exploitation, particularly for those with precarious immigration status.
Live-in care, where care workers provide around the clock personal assistance in their client’s home, is a growing sector of the social care market. The majority of live-in carers are migrants, including a high proportion of circular migrants who travel between the UK and their home country.
The study used a Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) approach, which FLEX has helped to pioneer, involving live-in care workers as paid peer researchers, helping to design the research tools, collect data, and provide feedback on data analysis and giving them the opportunity to have their voices heard in debate around national policy.
Adult social care has been identified by the Director of Labour Market Enforcement as a high-risk sector for labour exploitation, with live-in and agency care workers believed to be at particular risk. Despite this, the working lives of paid, live-in care workers, many who are extremely isolated, have remained largely unexamined.
Through interviews conducted by their peers, they identified five main risk factors to exploitation:
Participants highlighted issues with being able to open bank accounts, payslips that were unclear on the number of hours worked or tax paid and unscrupulous agencies that would deduct pay for accommodation charges, place novice carers with the most difficult clients that others declined to work with, and would pay some carers at a higher rate or offer more favourable conditions for doing the same job.
They also spoke of the emotional pressure associated with being closely involved in the everyday lives of their clients and their families, including sleep deprivation from getting up in the night to offer care, not being able to get the breaks they were entitled to, or being asked to run errands for their client in their own time. Others cited inappropriate behaviour including racism/xenophobia and sexual harassment, and being made to carry out non-caring duties for the whole family including cooking, cleaning and gardening.
Despite this, the participants interviewed all had a sense of awareness of the risks of exploitation and importance of peer support. Being able to draw on advice and help from fellow care worked was highlighted as one of the ways they maintained their resilience in the face of these challenges.
In response, the report sets out recommendations and policy options which include:
Three further recommendations were also generated through peer researcher-led focus groups:
The full list of recommendations can be seen in greater detail within the report, The vulnerability of paid migrant live-in care workers in London to modern slavery.
FLEX Research Manager Meri Ahlberg said: ‘It is vital for policymakers to listen to the lived experiences of migrant live-in care workers so as to understand and actively mitigate the specific modern slavery risks affecting them. The need for care, including live-in care, will increase as the UK’s population ages, and much of this indispensable work will be done by people coming from outside the UK. It is our duty to ensure they can help fill these roles without compromising on their rights or safety.’
Peer Researcher Natalia Byer said: ‘Our research clearly highlights severe shortcomings of the conditions under which live-in carers are employed, as well as the extent of exploitations and lack of remedies that would be easy to put in place. It’s an important milestone in the ongoing discussion of the broken care system. What’s most important for me as an ex-care worker is that our research identifies crucial regulatory and systemic changes that we all need to work on. I think that we should unify the public around this issue to create unbreakable pressure on the government as, one way or another, each of us is affected.’
This research was funded by Trust for London.