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Carers recruited from abroad subjected to ‘widespread exploitation’ in the UK | UK News

Widespread exploitation of carers recruited from abroad is the “the number one priority” for the agency that investigates criminality affecting workers in England and Wales.

The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) told Sky News that the Health and Care Worker visa system is being abused by criminals, leading to “a constant stream of allegations” of fraud and modern slavery.

GLAA Senior Investigating Officer Martin Plimmer said there are more than 30 ongoing investigations into care agencies operating illegally and that his organisation still “doesn’t know the full extent” of the problem.

“It is our number one priority at the moment,” he said. “It’s the one area, the sector of business – because we deal with labour exploitation – where we have the most intelligence coming into us. Care is by far the number one issue for us as an agency.”

He explained: “Two years ago the care sector wasn’t on our radar at all”, adding that cases shot up since February 2022 when the government added care workers to the country’s Shortage Occupation List allowing people to be recruited from overseas. Carers now account for two in five of all skilled work visas.

Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority senior investigating officer Martin Plimmer
Image:
Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority senior investigating officer Martin Plimmer

Mr Plimmer said there are companies established nationwide with the intention of exploiting workers desperate to come to the UK.

“The sole purpose of these criminals is to use these people as cash cows. They are running businesses at a much reduced cost because they’re not paying them what they’re supposed to. They’re also charging them excessive fees.”

Sky News has found several victims of this practice across the country. We’ve previously reported how human traffickers are using the Skilled Worker Visa route and how foreign care workers are left destitute, relying on foodbanks to survive.

Some of those illegal recruiters are based in Britain, operating fake and fraudulent care agencies.

‘Mary’, not her real name, told us she began looking for work in the UK in order to support her sick husband and teenage son. She was working in the Philippines but thought she could earn more here.

A woman, who we’re calling Mary, told us she began looking for work in the UK in order to support her sick husband and teenage son
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A woman, who we’re calling Mary, told us she began looking for work in the UK in order to support her sick husband and teenage son

She found an online advert for employment with a care agency in the North of England and had a successful interview on Zoom with a director of the company.

She said they then told her to transfer £4,000 – a fee which is illegal for recruiters to charge under UK law. In return she was provided with a certificate of sponsorship, outlining her offer of 39 hours a week as a carer and allowing her to be granted a Health and Care Worker visa.

‘I spent a lot of money and I cannot go back’

Mary said she used all her savings and borrowed money from her sister and a friend, but she believed her salary would provide a “better life” for her family back home.

It was only when she landed at the airport in England in July and was met by her recruiter that he told her there was no job.

Since then she’s been given accommodation in a shared house and a small food allowance but “not a single day” of the paid work she was promised.

As she described her situation she became tearful. “We need money to pay my debt in the Philippines,” she said. “And also I need to support my family because they are relying on me.”

She said she feels trapped. Under the terms of her visa, she is only allowed to work full-time for her sponsor – and any part-time work, limited to 20 hours extra per week, has to also be in the care sector.

“My family doesn’t know my situation here and I don’t know how to tell them,” she said. “They will be upset.”

“I spent a lot of money and I cannot go back,” she added, saying her best hope is trying to find a legitimate care organisation to transfer her sponsorship.

She’s scared to report the agency to the authorities which is why Sky News is not naming the company.

But it is one of several agencies that only began operating after the government changed the visa rules for carers. It remains on the list of government-approved sponsors for overseas hiring.

‘They’ll do a free shift’

Sky News has spoken to several care homes who described being bombarded by calls from new care agencies with names they don’t recognise.

One care home administrator in northwest England said: “We probably get about four or five calls a day asking if we need agency staff and a lot now are phoning and offering that they’ll do a free shift.”

She said they also get migrants turning up at the home asking for work “two or three times a day”.

As Sky News filmed at the care home, a man and woman, wet through from the pouring rain, knocked on the door, hoping to find some work. They were turned away.

Migrants turning up at the home asking for work
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Migrants turning up at the home asking for work

The woman, from Pakistan, said in broken English: “We are looking for work permit, like most of the care homes are giving work permits or jobs.”

‘Very close to people trafficking’

Neil Russell runs PJ Care which has homes in Milton Keynes and Peterborough. He told Sky News: “Over the last six to eight months we’ve seen an increase in approaches from care agencies offering staff to cover shifts. Some of the approaches are very desperate, almost begging us to use them.”

“These new agencies feel a little bit fly-by-night. And it’s quite concerning that we could end up with somebody working here who’s not got the clearances, not got the right training and could end up damaging or harming one of our residents that we’re trying to provide care for.”

Neil Russell runs PJ Care which has homes in Milton Keynes and Peterborough
Image:
Neil Russell runs PJ Care which has homes in Milton Keynes and Peterborough

His company offers legitimate Health and Care Worker visa sponsorship, but last year he paused overseas recruitment after discovering an agent he’d paid to find staff abroad had also illegally charged a worker for her visa.

“It’s very, very close to people trafficking,” he said, about a practice he now believes is widespread in his industry.

Read more:
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Why renters are more vulnerable to interest rate rises than mortgage holders

Asked how much bogus recruiters are charging workers he said: “We’re talking about £15,000 and then we’re paying the same amount.”

“£30,000 to bring somebody over – it’s probably more than the transporters are getting for the rubber dinghies coming across the Channel. And they’re doing less work for it. It’s ridiculous.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We strongly condemn offering Health and Care Worker visa holders employment under false pretences.

“The government does not tolerate illegal activity in the labour market and any accusations of illegal employment practices will be thoroughly looked into.

“Those found operating unlawfully may face prosecution and/or removal from the sponsorship register.”

Additional reporting by Nick Stylianou, communities producer.

Air traffic control: NATS ‘not ruling out anything’ after glitch causes widespread disruption | UK News

The chief executive of National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has said he cannot reveal the cause of the glitch which has affected thousands of passengers but is “not ruling out anything at this stage”.

Martin Rolfe said on Tuesday evening that an initial investigation had found that the air traffic control failure was caused by flight data received.

However, he later told Sky News: “You will understand we have very complex systems, handling something in the region of two million flights a year and the safety of those passengers is incredibly important to us.

“We are not going to rush into saying what the cause is until we absolutely fully understand.”

Night flights given go ahead to ease disruption – air traffic chaos latest

Reports have suggested the chaos may have been caused after a French airline misfiled its flight plan.

Without confirming the reports, Mr Rolfe said: “It could be a single flight plan… if it is a flight plan that has caused this, we know it is something in the flight data and we will get to the bottom of it and understand why.”

A woman points at a flight board at Heathrow Airport, as Britain's National Air Traffic Service (NATS) restricts UK air traffic due to a technical issue causing delays

However, he added: “I’m not ruling out anything at this stage.

“We are conducting an investigation, we will conduct it incredibly thoroughly.”

Despite Mr Rolfe saying he is not ruling anything out, NATS said earlier there is “no indication” it was targeted in a cyber attack.

Hundreds of flights around the UK have been cancelled after yesterday’s air traffic control disruption. The incident on Bank Holiday Monday meant flight plans had to be uploaded to systems manually, slowing or cancelling air traffic across the country.

Thousands of passengers were affected by yesterday’s disruption – and many are still waiting for their flights today.

NATS suffered what it described as a “technical issue”, preventing it from automatically processing flight plans.

This resulted in flights to and from UK airports being restricted while the plans were checked manually.

NATS said at 3.15pm on Monday the problem was resolved, but disruption continued into Tuesday as many aircraft and crews were out of position.

Read more:
‘I’ve been awake for 22 hours stranded in a foreign airport’
Airline boss blasts flight delays as thousands stranded
Am I entitled to compensation after air traffic control chaos?

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Hundreds ‘stranded in shocking conditions’

Analysis of flight data websites shows at least 281 flights – including departures and arrivals – were cancelled on Tuesday at the UK’s six busiest airports.

This consisted of 75 at Gatwick, 74 at Heathrow, 63 at Manchester, 28 at Stansted, 23 at Luton and 18 at Edinburgh.

EasyJet announced it will run five repatriation flights to Gatwick following the air traffic control fault as well as operating larger aircraft on key routes.

Aviation analytics company Cirium said 790 departures and 785 arrivals were cancelled across all UK airports on Monday.

That was equivalent to around 27% of planned flights and means around a quarter of a million people were affected.

British athletes were stranded in Budapest after the World Championships.

Passengers at Heathrow Airport as disruption from air traffic control issues continues across the UK and Ireland. Travel disruption could last for days after flights were cancelled, leaving thousands of passengers stranded during a technical fault in the UK's air traffic control (ATC) system. Picture date: Tuesday August 29, 2023.
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Passengers at Heathrow Airport

A group of around 40 athletes and staff from UK Athletics returned to their hotel in the Hungarian capital on Monday night because of the flight chaos.

Some of the affected athletes chose to travel directly to Zurich for Thursday’s Diamond League event.

Holidaymakers stuck in the UK and abroad described their frustration, as some had no idea when or how they would get to their destination.

Vicki Ostrowski has emailed Sky News to say she was stranded in Oslo with a “disabled, wheelchair-bound passenger with a neurological disease, an 83-year-old frail relative, plus three other family members”.

She added: “I myself will run out of essential heart medication two days before the flight they have reassigned us on 2 September at 5pm!”

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Traveller stranded without medication

Kayleigh, another reader, got in touch to say she was stuck at Las Palmas airport in Gran Canaria.

“It’s been 13 hours, it’s freezing, and we are trying to get some sleep on the cold floor,” she said.

“There are children lying on the cold floor, people making public speeches about the airline and it is sheer pandemonium.

“I have never felt so helpless. Been awake for 22 hours. We’ve now spent 14 hours in the airport. We were told if we waited 2-3 hours they would sort out a hotel.

“We have still heard nothing with ground staff saying they don’t know anything and no one has been around to check if people are okay!”

‘Zombie drug’ claims first victim in UK and could be in widespread use across the country | UK News

A new “zombie drug” has claimed its first British victim and could be widespread across the UK, experts have warned.

The death of 43-year-old Karl Warburton last May marked the first recorded fatality caused by xylazine, a powerful sedative which has devastated cities across the US.

Used by vets to tranquillise large animals, xylazine lowers the heart and breathing rates to dangerous levels and can cause large patches of rotting flesh when injected, leading to the nickname “zombie drug”.

It is thought that the father of two, who had been referred to addiction services, took heroin which was laced with fentanyl and xylazine.

The factory worker was found in the living room of his home in Solihull, West Midlands

A coroner determined his cause of death as acute aspiration pneumonitis, a lung injury caused by inhaling toxins, and listed xylazine as a contributing factor.

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Tranq: the zombie drug that swept America

The presence of the drug in his system was discovered by “chance” after toxicologists noticed a “strange peak” in the results of his drug screening.

Now experts have warned that xylazine – known on the street as tranq – could already be widespread in British heroin supplies as drug screenings are not designed to detect it.

It has contributed to an epidemic of drug deaths in the US, with research by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showing it is prevalent in 7% of overdoses across the country – and as high as 26% in some states.

Read more:
A new drug is causing horror on US streets
Xylazine compounds America’s overdose crisis

Dr Caroline Copeland, director of the National Programme on Substance Abuse Deaths, led a study into Mr Warburton’s death at King’s College London.

She said it was “highly likely” that the drug is elsewhere in the UK drug market but is not being detected.

Danielle, a mother of three. Until a couple of years ago, Danielle worked as a certified recovery specialist to support people in rehab. She shows the wounds on her arms.
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The wounds it causes have led to xylazine being called the “zombie drug”.

Dr Copeland warned that regular drug screenings should be updated to look for the drug and that users should be made aware of the additional risks of xylazine.

“If it has appeared in one place, it is highly unlikely that this was the only preparation with (xylazine) available,” she said.

“It probably is elsewhere but isn’t being detected.

“The most immediate thing to be done is to tell heroin users that this is around.”

Train strikes set to cause widespread travel misery as drivers walk out for second time this week | UK News

Rail passengers are facing fresh travel chaos today as train drivers hold another strike leaving large parts of the country with no services all day.

Members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) will walk out in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

Operators said there would be severe disruption, with trains that do run due to start later and finish much earlier than usual – typically between 7.30am and 6.30pm.

Saturday morning services are also expected to be affected.

Read more:
Who is going on strike and when?

The rail industry has criticised the rejection of an offer which would give drivers an 8% pay rise over two years, taking average salaries up from nearly £60,000 a year, to almost £65,000.

Simon Weller, assistant general secretary of Aslef, said the dispute was going “backwards” because of the lack of progress in months of talks.

“I don’t know whether to point the finger of blame at the ineptitude of the Department for Transport or the Rail Delivery Group.

“We would struggle to recommend a deal of a 4% pay rise for last year and 4% this year if there were no conditions attached, but we are being asked to give up collective bargaining and effectively agree to a no-strike deal.

“Obviously it was going to be rejected – it was designed to fail.”

A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group said: “To minimise the impact of the Aslef action, we advise passengers to check before they travel, allow extra time and find out when their first and last train will depart.”

It will be the second strike by train drivers this week, after they took part in the huge day of industrial action on Wednesday.

Other professions who walked out included teachers, university staff, civil servants, bus drivers and security guards.

Around 1,900 members of Unite working as bus drivers for Abellio in London will complete a three-day strike on Friday in a separate dispute over pay.

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Meanwhile, train services between Scotland and England will be severely disrupted by the strike.

Cross-border services operated by CrossCountry, Transpennine Express and Avanti West Coast will not run on Friday.

LNER said it will run an amended service and Lumo, which run trains between Edinburgh and London, said it will aim to run as many services as possible.

No LNER trains will run any further north than Edinburgh, with trains between Edinburgh and London King’s Cross starting later and finishing earlier than usual.

ScotRail has reassured customers that all services would operate as normal this week.

Just Stop Oil activists halt M25 protests after days of widespread disruption | UK News

Just Stop Oil has said it is halting its protests on the M25 after causing days of widespread disruption on the major motorway circling London.

Its supporters have been climbing overhead gantries in several locations, forcing the police to close vast sections of the road for safety while officers remove activists.

“From today, Just Stop Oil will halt its campaign of civil resistance on the M25. We are giving time to those in government who are in touch with reality to consider their responsibilities to this country at this time,” the group said today.

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Tailbacks caused by Just Stop Oil

“We ask that the prime minister consider his statement at COP27, where he spoke of the catastrophic threat posed by the ravages of global heating, the 33 million people displaced by floods in Pakistan, and the moral and economic imperative to honour our pledges.

“You don’t get to recycle words and promises – you owe it to the British people to act.

“Today is Remembrance Day, we call on you to honour all those who served and loved their country. Take the necessary first step to ensure a liveable future and halt new oil and gas.”

The group did not say whether campaigners would resume action on the M25 if their demands are not met.

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Climate finance boost is ‘right thing to do’

The demonstrations began on Monday as the latest COP27 international climate change summit in Egypt got under way.

Dozens of people took part in the protests and were detained – despite the Metropolitan Police “proactively” arresting campaigners suspected of planning the action.

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said the action was “criminality”, not protest.

“This was a very significant and co-ordinated effort to cause massive disruption to the entirety of the M25,” he said.

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Just Stop Oil return to M25

Essex Police made several arrests across a stretch of the M25 during the course of the group’s four-day campaign.

It’s chief constable, BJ Harrington, told Sky News the group’s actions were “unlawful” and “dangerous”, warning protesters were not only risking their own lives, but that of motorists and police officers too.

One police officer was injured in a crash with two lorries while responding to protests on the motorway on Wednesday.

Campaigner Indigo Rumbelow, told Sky News’ Mark Austin on Thursday the climate crisis is set to get “worse and worse and worse unless we act”.

She accepted the disruption is “not pleasant”, adding: “We feel empathy for all those people out there”, but insisted the action was necessary to get the government to listen.

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Just Stop Oil: ‘Do you love your children?’

National Highways has said dealing with the Just Stop Oil protests is costing it “a lot of money”.

It has secured a High Court injunction to prevent protesters disrupting England’s busiest motorway.

The court has granted a further injunction which aims to stop unlawful demonstrations on the M25, which encircles Greater London, in an attempt to end disruption to the busy road by the environmental group.

It means that anyone entering the motorway and fixing themselves to any object or structure on it, and anyone assisting in such an act, can be held in contempt of court.

They could face imprisonment, an unlimited fine, and the seizure of assets.