Research

Inspiring Nottingham Research Fellows

Caroline Emberson is a Nottingham Research Fellow with the Rights Lab Beacon of Excellence 

Protecting live-in carers who look after the elderly from exploitation and domestic slavery

Why did you apply for a fellowship?

Although I was already working in the area of modern slavery, my fellowship offered me greater autonomy over the direction and focus of my research. It allowed me to pursue a challenge-based project in domestic servitude, a research area that had received little attention that I felt needed to be urgently addressed, and to frame an ambitious international research project, focusing on the developed world.

Why Nottingham?

The Rights Lab Beacon of Excellence at the University of Nottingham is the world's largest group of modern slavery scholars. It offers fantastic support, with a dedicated research development team, and the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers who are conducting impactful research in this area. Not only that, but the wider Faculty of Social Sciences supports all aspects of the impact process, from targeted impact funding through to media relations.

How would you explain your research?

I am conducting comparative international research of home-based, personalised, live-in care provision to examine how the public sector might reduce the risk of domestic servitude in this form of care. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I conducted remote interviews with local government officials, non-government organisations representing paid and unpaid live in care workers, unions and other government agencies across four European countries, Canada and Australia.

 

I believe many people in academia, including myself, suffer from imposter syndrome… If you have identified a research area that you believe needs further investigation, do not be deterred. The university needs people with ideas and a desire to change the world for the better.

 

What inspired you to pursue this area?

There are 3.84 million slaves in domestic servitude worldwide and its eradication is part of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8.7: to end all forms of modern slavery by 2030.

I focus on developed countries, where the problem of enslaved domestic work is significant but is little examined and poorly understood. The rapidly growing sector of home-based personalised care services may leave workers more vulnerable to domestic servitude. By examining how care of the elderly by workers who live on-site is overseen by local government, my findings reveal how domestic servitude risk is managed in ‘cash for care’ schemes, which are designed to let those in need of care make their own, personal, care arrangements but may be vulnerable to exploitation by agents who deceive both care workers and those for whom they care for their own financial gain.

My background is in supply chain management and I am interested in better understanding how this lens can shed light on current practices while providing insight into alleviating the risk of domestic servitude.

How will your research affect the average person?

As the population ages, many more of us will find ourselves in need of long-term care. Increasingly, societies are turning to personalised support packages, delivered by care workers in domestic settings, so that we can live independently for as long as possible in our own homes. The working conditions of such care workers affects not only the carers themselves, but also the quality of care and peace of mind of their families. In a fair society good quality care and fair, safe working conditions for the carer are important.

What has been the greatest moment of your career so far?

Working with collaborators from the UK-based charity Focus on Labour Exploitation, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the Institute of Public Care at Oxford Brookes University, I have recently published a report on research which examined the vulnerability of paid migrant live-in care workers in London to modern slavery. Our recommendations received coverage in the mainstream media, including The Observer on Sunday. I hope that this attention will help to ensure that live-in care workers in the UK will always receive at least the minimum wage and will no longer be faced with deductions from their salary for accommodation.

Who or what has helped you get to where you are today?

My research career has not been straightforward. I spent five years out of academia due to ill-health and was not certain whether it would even be possible to restart an academic career. I shall be forever grateful both to my colleagues at Nottingham University Business School for the initial decision to appoint me to a part-time research associate role, which led to the opportunity to apply for a Nottingham Research Fellowship, and to Professor Zoe Trodd and my Rights Lab colleagues for their support and encouragement as I prepared my application.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

I believe many people in academia, including myself, suffer from imposter syndrome and I feel that the discourse of excellence surrounding the fellowship scheme may sometimes put people off applying for a position. If you have identified a research area that you believe needs further investigation, do not be deterred. The university needs people with ideas and a desire to change the world for the better.

How does being based at the University of Nottingham allow you to fulfil your research aspirations?

The Nottingham Research Fellowship scheme has provided me with funding to support my research, attend conferences, host symposiums and build a research team to support me in achieving my research objectives.

What next?

I have just completed one externally funded project and have recently submitted another, much larger, bid with the same research team to develop the methods employed to ensure decent work in personalised adult social care provision across England and Wales. Since I have been unable to travel during the pandemic, I have been able to reallocate some fellowship resources to recruit a research associate to support a more detailed investigation of servitude in UK domestic work.

 


Feeling inspired?

 

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