By Caroline Emberson
Research Fellow, Rights Lab, University of Nottingham, UK
In this post Caroline Emberson discusses the results of a research study which examines the risks of modern slavery to care-workers in the labour supply chains of adult social care, created through contracting-out by English local authorities. While there are signs that the problems may now be receiving recognition, the findings presented raise questions about the adequacy and efficacy of current human rights accountabilities in our public authorities which may be of relevance to those in other EU member states.
This post discusses the risks related to modern slavery that may arise from the contracting-out and personalisation of adult social care in the UK.
Adult social care services support adults with physical or learning disabilities and physical or mental illnesses. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies total annual expenditure on adult social care in England reached nearly £35 billion of which £19 billion was state spending.
Over the past three decades there has been a shift in the medium of public provision of adult social care in England from homes owned and operated by local government to public procurement of care services by local government from private providers.
So when, in September 2018, the Governments of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom jointly published a set of principles to guide Government action to combat human trafficking in global supply chains hopes were raised that Governments might take action to exclude from public tenders companies that have not committed to action to eradicate modern slavery.
However, while the first of these four principles requires Governments to take steps to prevent and address human trafficking in their procurement practices, its focus on global supply chains means it falls short of providing sanctions of relevance to the networks of small, domestic, private-sector organisations and individuals who provide services in their home countries’ adult social care markets.
Yet, as Claire Methven O’Brien identifies, the public procurement of such essential services may remain within the scope of the state’s duty to protect human rights which arises from international human rights instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights: a premise that is reinforced by the recent publication of a Procurement Guidance Note related to Human Rights in Public Procurement from the Northern Ireland Public Procurement Policy Board.
However, as Anna Gorma and Patrycja Krupinska noted in this blog last year, Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act (MSA), which might be expected to provide specific legal protection related to modern slavery, currently precludes public bodies such as local authorities from the duty to provide an annual statement of the steps that they have taken to eliminate modern slavery from their organisation and those of their suppliers or to state that they have taken no such steps. This may change. A number of local authorities have already opted to publish voluntary statements related to their activities and, in the second interim review report of the MSA published by the UK Government at the end of January, the reviewers recommend that Section 54 be extended to the public sector.
This is important since there is, at present, limited oversight of the fragmented adult social care sector in which the majority of private care providers fail to meet the £36 million threshold in place for commercial organisations’ annual reporting.
To better understand the risks of modern slavery in this sector, it is necessary to consider the context in which procurement decisions are made.