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United Kingdom

Executive Summary

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect members (MPs) to the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections in June 2017. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda each have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs, security, and defense.

Civilian authorities throughout the UK and its territories maintained effective control over the security forces.

Human rights issues included violence motivated by anti-Semitism and against members of minorities on racial or ethnic grounds.

The government investigated, prosecuted, and punished allegations of official abuse, including by police, with no reported cases of impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

On March 4, according to British authorities, agents of Russian military intelligence spread the nerve agent Novichok on the front door of the home of former Russian military intelligence offer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in an apparent attempt to kill him. Skripal and his daughter Yulia were hospitalized in serious condition but both ultimately survived. On June 30, Salisbury residents Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley were hospitalized after accidentally coming in contact with a bottle of Novichok that the assassins had discarded. Sturgess died on July 8.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits such practices, and there were no reports that government officials employed them.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government routinely observed these requirements.

In Scotland guidelines that came into force in May 2017 allow police to stop and search persons only when police have “reasonable grounds.”

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence and impartiality.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.

Corruption: An inquiry into allegations of large-scale corruption at the Northern Ireland Assembly (Stormont) concerning renewable energy incentive payments, which led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland government in January 2017, was ongoing.

Financial Disclosure: All MPs are required to disclose their financial interests. The Register of Members Interests was available online and updated regularly. These public disclosures include paid employment, property ownership, shareholdings in public or private companies, and other interests that “might reasonably be thought to influence” the member in any way. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Bermudian Parliament have similar codes of conduct for members. The ministerial code issued by the Prime Minister’s Office sets standards of conduct, including on the disclosure of gifts and travel. The national government publishes the names, grades, job titles, and annual pay rates for most civil servants with salaries greater than 150,000 pounds ($195,000). Government departments publish the business expenses of and hospitality received by their most senior officials.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The government routinely respected these rights. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and protects employees from unfair dismissal while striking, provided the union has complied with the legal requirements governing such industrial action.

The law allows strikes to proceed only when there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50 percent. For “important public services,” defined as health services, education for those younger than the age of 17, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and the management of radioactive waste and spent fuel, and border security, an additional threshold of support by 40 percent of all eligible union members must be met for strike action to be legal.

The law does not cover workers in the armed forces, public sector security services, police forces, and freelance or temporary work. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the right to strike in the UK is “limited” due to prohibitions against political and solidarity strikes, lengthy procedures for calling strikes, and the ability of employers to seek injunctions against unions before a strike has begun if the union does not observe all proper steps in organizing the strike.

The government enforced applicable laws. Remedies were limited in situations where workers faced reprisal for union activity, and the ITUC stated that the law does not provide “adequate means of protection against antiunion discrimination,” and noted that legal protections against unfair labor practices only exist within the framework of organizing a recognition ballot. Penalties range from employers paying compensation to reinstatement and were sufficient to deter violations.

The government and employers routinely respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. Unions and management typically negotiated collective “agreements,” which were less formal and not legally enforceable. The terms of the agreement could, however, be incorporated into an individual work contract with legal standing.

The law does not allow independent trade unions to apply for derecognition of in-house company unions or to protect individual workers seeking to do so.

Various labor NGOs advocated for worker’s rights freely within the UK and acted independently from trade unions, although advocacy problems often overlapped. NGOs advocated for improvements in paid family leave, a minimum/living wage, and worker safety among other problems.

According to the ONS, approximately 6.2 million employees were trade union members in 2017. The level of overall union members increased by 19,000 (0.3 percent) from 2016. Membership levels were below the 1979 peak of more than 13 million.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced and compulsory labor, but such practices occurred despite effective government enforcement. Resources and inspections were generally adequate and penalties were sufficiently stringent compared with other sentences for serious crimes.

The law permits punishment of up to life imprisonment for all trafficking and slavery offenses, including sexual exploitation, labor exploitation, and forced servitude. More than 12,000 firms with a global turnover of 36 million pounds ($46.8 million) that supply goods or services in the UK must by law publish an annual statement setting out what steps they are taking to ensure that slave labor is not being used in their operations and supply chain. Foreign companies and subsidiaries that “carry on a business” in the UK also have to comply with this law. The law allows courts to impose reparation orders on convicted exploiters and prevention orders to ensure that those who pose a risk of committing modern slavery offenses cannot work in relevant fields, such as with children.

Forced labor in the UK involved both foreign and domestic workers, mainly in sectors characterized by low-skilled, low-paid manual labor and heavy use of flexible, temporary workers. Those who experienced forced labor practices tended to be poor, living on insecure and subsistence incomes and in substandard accommodations. Victims of forced labor included men, women, and children. Forced labor was normally more prevalent among the most vulnerable, minorities or socially excluded groups. Albania, Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania, and Poland were the most likely countries of origin, but some victims were from the UK itself. Most migrants entered the UK legally. Many migrants used informal brokers to plan their journey and find work and accommodation in the UK, enabling the brokers to exploit the migrants through high fees and to channel them into forced labor situations. Many with limited English were trapped in poverty through a combination of debts, flexible employment, and constrained opportunities. Migrants were forced to share rooms with strangers in overcrowded houses, and often the work was just sufficient to cover rent and other charges. Sexual exploitation was the most common form of modern slavery reported in the UK, followed by labor exploitation, forced criminal exploitation, and domestic servitude. Migrant workers were subject to forced labor in agriculture, construction, food processing, service industries (especially nail salons), and on fishing boats. Women employed as domestic workers were particularly vulnerable to forced labor.

In Bermuda the Department of Immigration and the Director of Public Prosecutions confirmed there were no cases of forced labor during the year, although historically there were some cases of forced labor, mostly involving migrant men in the construction sector and women in domestic service. Media did not report any cases of forced labor or worker exploitation in 2017. The law requires employers to repatriate work-permit holders. Failure to do so had been a migrant complaint. The cases of worker exploitation largely consisted of employers requiring workers to work longer hours or to perform work outside the scope of their work permit. The government effectively enforced the law. The penalties for ‎employing someone outside the scope of their work permit or without a work permit are 5,000 Bermudian dollars ($5,000) for the first offense and $10,000 Bermudian dollars ($10,000) for the second or subsequent offenses. Penalties are levied to both the employer and the employee and are sufficient to deter violations.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

UK law prohibits the employment of children younger than the age of 13 with exceptions for sports, modeling, and paid performances, which may require a child performance license. The law prohibits those younger than 16 from working in an industrial enterprise, including transportation or street trading. Children’s work hours are strictly limited and may not interfere with school attendance. Different legislation governs the employment of persons younger than 16, and, while some laws are common across the UK, local bylaws vary. If local bylaws so require, children between the ages of 13 and 16 must apply for a work permit from a local authority. The local authority’s education and welfare services have primary responsibility for oversight and enforcement of the permits.

The Department for Education has primary regulatory responsibility for child labor, although local authorities generally handled enforcement. Penalties for noncompliance consist of relatively low fines, but were sufficient to deter violations. The Department of Education did not keep records of the number of local prosecutions, but officials insisted the department effectively enforced applicable laws.

In Bermuda children younger than the age of 13 may perform light work of an agricultural, horticultural, or domestic character if the parent or guardian is the employer. Schoolchildren may not work during school hours or more than two hours on school days. No child younger than 15 may work in any industrial undertaking, other than light work, or on any vessel, other than a vessel where only family members work. Children younger than 18 may not work at night, except that those ages 16 to 18 may work until midnight; employers must arrange for safe transport home for girls between ages 16 and 18 working until midnight. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. The BPS reported no cases of child labor or exploitation of children during the year.

The governments of Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), Montserrat, and St. Helen-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha have not developed a list of hazardous occupations prohibited for children.

There are legislative gaps in the prohibition of trafficking in children for labor exploitation and the use of children for commercial sexual exploitation on the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and St. Helena-Ascension-Tristan da Cunha. While criminal laws prohibit trafficking in children for sexual exploitation, they do not address trafficking in children for labor exploitation. Laws do not exist in Monserrat regarding the use of children in drug trafficking and other illicit activities. Traffickers subjected children to commercial sexual exploitation in Turks and Caicos. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and penalties are not sufficient to deter violations.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/  for information on UK territories.

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination in employment or occupation regarding race, color, sex, religion or belief, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, social origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, age, language, or HIV or other communicable disease status. Legal protection extends to others who are associated with someone who has a protected characteristic or who have complained about discrimination or supported someone else’s claim. The government effectively enforced these laws and regulations.

Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to race, gender, and sexual orientation and gender identity. Complainants faced higher fees in discrimination cases than in other types of claims made to employment tribunals or the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government enacted mandatory gender pay reporting, aimed at closing the gender pay gap, a separate concept from the equal pay principle. From April, businesses with more than 250 employees are required to measure, and then report, on how they pay men and women. This affected 8,000 businesses employing approximately 11 million persons. The gap has narrowed over the long term for low earners but has remained largely consistent over time for high earners.

In July the government required the British Broadcasting Corporation to publish information on the earnings and salaries of employees making 150,000 pounds ($195,000) or more. The information revealed two-thirds of the 96 top earners were men and that the highest-paid woman earned less than a quarter of the salary of the highest-paid man. The gender pay gap for full-time workers fell in 2017 to 9.1 percent from 10 percent in 2016, although the gap including both full and part-time work remained stable at 18.4 percent.

The finance sector has the highest pay gap of all sectors, with the average woman earning 35.6 percent less than the average man.

In Northern Ireland, all employers have a responsibility to provide equal opportunity for all applicants and employees. Discrimination based on religion or political affiliation is illegal. Employers must register with the Northern Ireland Equality Commission if they employ more than 10 people. Registered employers are required to submit annual reports to the Commission on the religious composition of their workforce.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The National Living Wage became law in 2016. All workers age 25 and older are legally entitled to at least 7.50 pounds ($9.75) per hour. Workers between 21 and 24 are legally entitled to the National Minimum Wage, which was 7.05 pounds ($9.17) per hour.

The government measures the poverty level as income less than 60 percent of the median household income; thus, the poverty line moves with the median income year to year. The median income is currently 27,200 pounds ($35,400), putting the poverty line at 16,320 pounds ($21,200) or less.

Although criminal enforcement is available, most minimum wage noncompliance is pursued via civil enforcement. Civil penalties for noncompliant employers include fines of up to 200 percent of arrears capped at 20,000 pounds ($26,200) per worker) and public naming and shaming. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations.

The law limits the workweek to an average of 48 hours, normally averaged over a 17-week period. The law does not prohibit compulsory overtime, but it limits overtime to the 48-hour workweek restriction. The 48-hour workweek regulations do not apply to senior managers and others who can exercise control over their own hours of work. There are also exceptions for the armed forces, emergency services, police, domestic workers, sea and air transportation workers, and fishermen. The law allows workers to opt out of the 48-hour limit, although there are exceptions for airline staff, delivery drivers, security guards, and workers on ships or boats.

The government set appropriate and current occupational safety and health standards. The law stipulates that employers may not place the health and safety of employees at risk. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for identifying unsafe situations, and not the worker. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.

The HSE, an arm of the Department for Work and Pensions, effectively enforced occupational health and safety laws in all sectors including the informal economy. The fine for violations is 400 pounds ($520), which was sufficient to deter violations. The HSE conducted workplace inspections and may initiate criminal proceedings. HSE inspectors also advise employers on how to comply with the law. Employers may be ordered to make improvements, either through an improvement notice, which allows time for the recipient to comply, or a prohibition notice, which prohibits an activity until remedial action has been taken. The HSE issued notices to companies and individuals for breaches of health and safety law. The notice may involve one or more instances when the recipient failed to comply with health and safety law, each of which was called a “breach.” The HSE prosecuted recipients for noncompliance with a notice while the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) prosecuted similar cases in Scotland.

Figures for 2016-17 show that the HSE and COPFS prosecuted 593 cases with at least one conviction secured in 554 of these cases, a conviction rate of 93 percent. Across all enforcing bodies, 9,495 notices were issued. HSE and COPFS prosecutions led to fines totaling 69.9 million pounds ($90.9 million) compared with the 38.3 million pounds ($49.8 million) in 2015-16.

According to the HSE annual report, 137 workers were killed at work in 2016-17. An estimated 621,000 workers sustained a nonfatal injury at work according to self-reports. A total of 71,062 industrial injuries were reported in 2017-18 in the UK.

Bermuda’s law does not currently provide a minimum wage, however, and update to the legislation is expected next year. The Department of Labor and Training currently enforces any contractually agreed wage. Regulations enforced by the Department extensively cover the safety of the work environment; occupational safety and health standards and are current and appropriate for the main industries. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Penalties were sufficient to deter violations. There were three industrial injuries reported in Bermuda in 2018.

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