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Workshop insights - Supply chains and modern slavery in adult social care

The way adult social care has been delivered has changed significantly over the past three decades, with the move to outsourced, contracted-out service delivery. This shift has changed the demographics of the care workforce from public sector employees to a mix of outsourced workers employed through private service providers, staffing and employment agencies, and directly – and, increasingly, self-employed – personal assistants. This diversified range of employment practices reshapes the commissioning landscape and alongside pressures associated with record levels of vacancies in the sector and the new post-Brexit immigration system, they may lead to new sources of supply chain risk. One such risk is that of labour exploitation, including in its most extreme form, modern slavery. In addition, Proposed changes to public procurement law and the expansion of modern slavery legislation to public authorities are on the horizon.

On 8 November 2022, Dr Agnes Turnpenny(Consultant, IPC), Dr Caroline Emberson (Research Fellow, Rights Lab, Nottingham University Business School, University of Nottingham) and Gemma Shelton (Interim Group Manager, Quality and Market Management Team, Nottinghamshire County Council) hosted an online workshop with IPC’s Commissioning Course Alumni and Academic Partners focusing on modern slavery and what we can do, as commissioners of care, to prevent and reduce the risk of this in our local care sectors.

This workshop blended findings from recent research into the risk of modern slavery within adult social care, a practical case study of one local authority's response, with an overview of established due diligence tools to guide commissioners as they seek to ensure both care quality and worker wellbeing in their provision of adult social care services.

Key insights from participants included:

  • There are concerns that the urgent need to fill labour shortages may lead to further instability and risk in social care labour markets
  • Without robust due diligence processes, questionable and even illegal employment practices may only be identified when concerns are raised related to safeguarding and care quality
  • Greater attention may be needed to home care services if the signs of severe forms of labour exploitation such as modern slavery are to be spotted
  • Commissioning authorities need to be aware of their own practices and how we work with providers of care in a time of growing demand and shrinking workforces, and how our expectations on their ability to meet local demand may have unintended consequences if not managed appropriately