DHSC launches £16m fund to tackle exploitation of overseas care staff

Funding for regional partnerships designed to prevent and respond to exploitative employment practices in adult social care, including debt bondage, excessive immigration fees and tying jobs to accommodation

Care worker or nurse looking stressed
Photo: Nina Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe Stock

The government has launched a £16m fund to tackle the exploitation of overseas adult social care staff.

The resource is an extension of the international recruitment fund for the adult social care sector, issued last year to help councils and providers increase the employment of overseas staff.

However, for 2024-25, the Department of Health and Social Care has switched the focus of the fund to preventing and responding to unethical employment practices concerning international recruits.

Growth in number of overseas care staff

Overseas staff played a vital role in cutting adult social care vacancy numbers from a record 164,000 in March 2022 to 152,000 a year later, on the back of the government allowing employers to recruit care workers from abroad through its health and care visa.

Approximately 70,000 international recruits started working in direct care roles in the independent sector from 2022-23, up from 20,000 the year before, with a further estimated 30,000-40,000 doing so from April to August last year (source: Skills for Care).

However, the growth in the number of overseas staff has been accompanied by concerns that many are being exploited.

Exploitation concerns

In her 2023-24 strategy, the government’s director of labour market enforcement, Margaret Beels, reported increased use of illegal recruitment fees, debt bondage – where people work for little or no money to pay off a debt – wage underpayment and other forms of labour exploitation within social care.

This has been echoed by the Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), whose role is to investigate worker exploitation.

“The GLAA has seen a significant increase in the information it has received relating to labour exploitation in the care sector over the last couple of years and has more than 30 ongoing investigations,” said national investigations lead Martin Plimmer in December of last year.

Abuses included charging for work-finding fees both in the UK and abroad, breaches of student visa schemes, placing staff in cramped and unsuitable accommodation and subjecting them to debt bondage, he added.

Also, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), in its annual state of care report for 2022-23, said it appeared that a “small number of providers” were exploiting staff, including by tying accommodation, transport or food to jobs, excessive sponsorship fees, long working hours and poor pay.

Supporting staff forced out of jobs

Such abuses can lead to the revocation of providers’ sponsorship licence, which enables them to recruit from abroad; however, this leaves sponsored staff without a job.

The DHSC said a key aim of its international recruitment fund in 2024-25 was to support staff in this position find “alternative, ethical employment”.

The funding will be allocated to regional partnerships of councils and care provider alliances – headed by a lead local authority – who will be expected to set up a mailbox for overseas care workers to contact should they lose their jobs. They should also provide staff with pastoral support, for example, through buddying schemes with other international workers, it added.

In addition, the department said partnerships should monitor data around licence suspensions and revocations among local providers and disseminate information to affected local authorities so they can tackle ensuing caps in workforce capacity.

It said they should also take steps to prevent care worker exploitation, including by supporting providers’ compliance with visa conditions.

The DHSC has set out indicative funding allocations for the partnerships, which have already been constituted. The lead local authority must submit an application for funding by 28 May 2024, with the DHSC agreeing funding as soon as possible after bids are received.

Concerns over fall in overseas recruitment

Alongside the funding, the government has also introduced a requirement for providers to be CQC registered to be able to sponsor overseas workers, to crack down on abuses of workers through the creation of fake care agencies.

This was part of wider reforms, announced in December 2023, to reduce levels of migration that included barring care workers who take up jobs using the health and care visa from bringing dependants with them.

Though these only came into force in April 2024, they have been linked to a fall in the number of people applying from abroad to work in adult social care and health. From December 2023 to March 2024, there were 16,600 applications from health and care visas, less than a third of the number who applied over the previous four months (55,400).

While these numbers are not broken down between health and adult social care, they likely represent a significant cut in overseas recruitment into the latter sector.

In response to the numbers, independent provider representative body Care England’s chief executive, Martin Green, said the sector had been left to “pick up the pieces” from the government’s immigration reforms.

He added: “These figures only serve to renew the need for meaningful workforce reforms that make the sector an attractive destination for domestic staff if we are going to shut off the route for overseas recruitment.”

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7 Responses to DHSC launches £16m fund to tackle exploitation of overseas care staff

  1. Memory Madya May 10, 2024 at 9:43 pm #

    This is a very good program that is meant to help us the affected staff. I would wish to get updates over this matter. Please help me to join it

  2. Abraham May 11, 2024 at 6:32 am #

    I paid £16000 in order to get my COS and I work from 7am to 8:30pm but only paid for 5 hours or 6. I pay to fuel company car to be taken to clients but am not paid for travelling times. I want to switch to another company, what should I do?

  3. Unyime May 11, 2024 at 4:17 pm #

    Not only overseas employee, we have people inside the UK already suffering and experiencing these issues, home office is also contributing to this as these employee are scared of speaking out because they will be threatened to get another sponsorship in 60days or leave the country, where will they get a job with sponsorship in 60days?

  4. Yem Yem May 12, 2024 at 10:45 am #

    Focus should also be on those already in the Uk and are working in the health sector and willing to row their career. Companies less than five years of operations should not be allowed to sponsor overseas workers while those companies that have been in business over such years should be approved to automatically give sponsorship to employers already in the UK working with them. I am sure this will help sanitise some abnormalities.

  5. Desire Kunaka May 12, 2024 at 1:26 pm #

    We as carer came here in this country to save the lives of the people of England.The people who came legally in this country,who are now being attarked here by the system of England ,and those who came illegally as refugees are being funded to sleep in Hotels and being given citizenship and residency here in England.It really does not make any sense and logic.We have been let down by both the system of England and the employers in England.We were scummed and robbed of our moneys and now some of us we are now homeless and sleeping in the streets.What crime have we really commited to deserve such punishment,to be treated so harshly by the world.All we came to do and fight for was for the survival of the people of Great Britain,and I return we are left to be punished and abused .Is it a crime to want to care for someone,to become a carer.Britain is said to be a Christian country but the fruits of Christianity are not even manifesting here.

  6. Jennifer May 21, 2024 at 12:34 pm #

    I am one of the victim of this exploitation circumstances, currently in the Uk as my employer has exploited me and many others since 2023.

    Home office is making it difficult for us to speak out as a result of being sent back home, and also home office are not doing anything to those employers exploiting innocent people to enrich themself.

    Most of us has been through a lot and sending us back home is not fair at all, while the perpetrators of this inhumane act are left to still live in the country with their family.

    Please, the punishment of sending us back is not fair. We should be allowed reasonable time to get another sponsor, for 60days is a very short time.

  7. Liz May 21, 2024 at 12:55 pm #

    My employer didn’t give me job for 6 months and just to save their company license they lied to home office we (over 70 ) staffs stopped working for them and they stop sponsoring us which led to home office serving us visa cancellation letter without proper investigation. Its unfair

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