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How many domestic workers in the UK are experiencing labour exploitation and abuse?

Monday, 26 June 2023
by Dr Caroline Emberson, of the Rights Lab

Dr Caroline Emberson and Selim Yilmaz, academics at the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab – the world’s largest group of modern slavery scholars - are conducting research to help provide a more accurate answer to the headline's question.

Working alongside Voice of Domestic Workers, the Filipinas domestic workers’ organisation Kanlungan and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Caroline and Selim are conducting the first, statistically generalisable estimate, of the nature and extent of labour exploitation experienced by domestic workers in the UK.

Here Dr Emberson explains what the study entails:

We are using a statistical estimation method called ‘Generalised Network Scale Up” which will allow us to provide for the first time an estimate of the scale of exploitation across various communities of domestic workers in the UK, including migrant workers.

Domestic workers are believed to be a group at risk of exploitation and abuse due to the isolated nature of their work and the possibility that some migrant workers may drop out of their legal migration status, due to current UK domestic worker visa regulations which limit the length of time that they can work legally in the UK as a domestic worker to no more than 6 months. This may tempt those who wish to continue to stay and work in the UK to continue in private employment without the legal right to work, leaving them vulnerable to labour abuses in the form of illegal wages, excessive working hours, unacceptable living conditions and, should they complain, deportation.

As Margaret Beels, the Director of Labour Market Enforcement, has tweeted earlier this month,

“Some high-risk sectors are well understood whilst others are less. [We need to better understand] what factors create the risks and how can they be addressed.”

While the online survey closes at the end of June 2023, the Rights Lab hope to publish a preliminary descriptive report in the autumn with the full result available later, subject to satisfactory peer review.

This, and other, Rights Lab research to help end modern slavery by 2030 can be found under the ‘Resources’ tab at the Rights Lab website:

Story credits

More information is available from Caroline Emberson in the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham on

Katie Andrews - Media Relations Manager for the Faculty of Social Sciences
Phone: 0115 951 5751

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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