Thousands of foreign domestic workers in the UK are open to abuse. Photo: Getty
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The government overlooks foreign domestic workers being treated as slaves

Despite Theresa May's rhetoric, the Conservatives torpedoed an amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill which would protect foreign domestic workers from economic, physical and sexual abuse.

Rita lives in London and works seven days per week. She rises at dawn and often doesn't get to bed until the small hours. Each day, she washes and cooks for three children, then cleans the house of her employer from top to bottom. Rita is fed on scraps of food, and sleeps in what is best described as a glorified cupboard, with a thin mattress on the floor. The mother of the household frequently verbally and even physically abuses her. The father, a wealthy businessman, has made occasional sexual advances. When Rita arrived in the United Kingdom from Indonesia, her employer also confiscated her passport. And she is still waiting for her first paycheck.

By most definitions, Rita's experience should count as modern day slavery. But thousands of foreign domestic workers are in the United Kingdom right now, open to abuse because the present government has introduced a tied visa system, in which foreign domestic workers' immigration status is entirely dependent on their employer. If their employer happens to be abusive – economically, physically, sexually or verbally – the domestic worker cannot move to a new household. She (foreign domestic workers are mainly women) is trapped. This is the much disdained kafala system of the Gulf, alive and well here in the UK. This is modern day slavery.

Yet Theresa May and the Home Office think otherwise. Her government has continually blocked moves to repeal these immigration laws, introduced from April 2012 – even as human rights groups, domestic worker support groups and the domestic workers themselves warn they are having devastating effects. An amendment to May's own Modern Slavery Bill, asking for the tied visa system to be repealed, was recently rejected after the Tories rallied to vote against it.

According to Kalayaan, a charity that works to protect abused domestic workers in the UK, 16% of those who arrived after the tied visa system was implemented report physical abuse, compared to 8% prior to its introduction. 65% on the tied visa don't have their own bedrooms, often sleeping in the kitchen or lounge – compared to 34% previously. Four fifths of tied workers have had their passports confiscated. There are reports of sexual abuse within foreign embassies, of billionaires from the Gulf or south Asia, living in west London mansions, who do not pay their domestic workers and beat them if they “misbehave.” One employer threatened to throw a domestic worker of the top of a sixth storey building.

Leaving these abusive employers puts the domestic workers in an impossible situation. They are then unable to work legally – putting them at even more risk. One woman, unable to find work, was forced to live in a central London park, where she was raped. Although the government claimed, in rejecting the amendment to the Modern Slavery Bill, that laws already exist to protect these abused workers - in reality, when workers have reported themselves to police stations, they are quickly deported. Back home, they often have large families to support, or ill family members – and their salary in the UK is their only chance of feeding them.

Foreign domestic workers, on the whole, are well treated. But there are too many cases of terrible abuse. The Modern Slavery Bill is a great opportunity to repeal the barbarism of the tied visa system. Theresa May and her Tory government should recognise that. She wants to look tough on immigration but the suffering of thousands of women is too terrible a price to pay. As the Bill moves forward into the Lords, it is imperative these laws are repealed.

Alastair Sloan, unequalmeasures.com

Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: Getty
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For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Scottish Nationalist ranks

The First Minister is facing pressure to talk less about independence - and bring on new talent in her party.

She so recently seemed all-powerful, licensed to reign for as long as she chose, with the authority to pursue the return of our national sovereignty. We would then have the ability to strike our own deals on our own terms, a smaller, smarter, leaner nation freed from the stifling constraints of partnership with a much larger neighbour. There was, she repeatedly told us, nothing to be afraid of.

Now, suddenly, she is the victim of her own miscalculation: having misread the public mood, having raced too far ahead of moderate opinion, she finds herself at bay. The voters have delivered a public humiliation, while an opposition party until recently lampooned as unelectable is on the march. There is, suddenly, talk of her departure sooner rather than later.

Yes, this is a tough time to be Nicola Sturgeon…

Let’s not overstate it. The position of Scotland’s First Minister is considerably more secure than that of the UK’s Prime Minister. Theresa May wants out as soon as is feasible; Sturgeon, one suspects, will have to be dragged from Bute House. Sturgeon retains enough respect among the public and support among her colleagues to plough on for now. Nevertheless, things are not what they were before the general election and are unlikely ever to return to that happy state.

It’s all because of Scexit, of course. Sturgeon’s unseemly sprint for the indy finishing line left enough Scottish voters feeling… what? Mistreated, taken for granted, rushed, patronised, bullied… so much so that they effectively used June 8 to deliver a second No vote. With the idea of another referendum hanging around like a bad headache, the electorate decided to stage an intervention. In just two years, Sturgeon lost 40 per cent of her Westminster seats and displaced half a million votes. One could almost argue that, by comparison, Theresa May did relatively well.

For the first time in decades, there is genuine dissent in Nationalist ranks. Tommy Sheppard, a former Labour Party official who is now an influential left-wing SNP MP, published an article immediately after the general election calling on the First Minister to ‘park’ a second referendum until the Brexit negotiations are complete. There are others who believe the party should rediscover its talent for the long game: accept the public mood is unlikely to change much before the 2021 devolved elections, at which point, even if the Nats remain the single largest party, Holyrood might find itself with a unionist majority; concentrate on improving the public services, show what might be done with all the powers of an independent nation, and wait patiently until the numbers change.

There are others – not many, but some – who would go further. They believe that Sturgeon should take responsibility for the election result, and should be looking to hand over to a new generation before 2021. The old guard has had its shot and its time: a party with veterans such as Sturgeon, John Swinney and Mike Russell in the key jobs looks too much like it did 20 years ago. Even the new Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, has been on the scene for donkey’s. There are more who believe that the iron grip the First Minister and her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, have on the party is unhealthy – that Murrell should carry the can for the loss of 21 MPs, and that he certainly would have done so if he weren’t married to the boss.

The most likely outcome, given what we know about the First Minister’s nature, is that she will choose something like the Sheppard route: talk less about independence for the next 18 months, see what the Brexit deal looks like, keep an eye on the polls and if they seem favourable go for a referendum in autumn 2019. The question is, can a wearied and increasingly cynical public be won round by then? Will people be willing to pile risk upon risk?

As the hot takes about Jeremy Corbyn’s surprise election performance continue to flood in, there has been a lot of attention given to the role played by young Britons. The issues of intergenerational unfairness, prolonged austerity and hard Brexit, coupled with Corbyn’s optimistic campaigning style, saw a sharp rise in turnout among that demographic. Here, Scotland has been ahead of the curve. In the 2014 referendum, the Yes campaign and its can-do spirit of positivity inspired huge enthusiasm among younger Scots. Indeed, only a large and slightly panicked defensive response from over-65s saved the union.

That brush with calamity seems to have been close enough for many people: many of the seats taken from the Nats by the Scottish Tories at the general election were rural, well-to-do and relatively elderly. The modern electorate is a fickle thing, but it remains rational. The Corbynites, amid their plans for total world domination and their ongoing festival of revenge, might bear that in mind.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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