When we stand together, victories are won
UK victory over NHS migrant surcharges
John Puntis, for ‘Keep Our NHS Public’
One of the most sickening things over recent weeks has been pictures of those of ministers applauding health and care staff on a Thursday evening while leading a Government that has shown exemplary commitment to dismantling the NHS.
As if this hypocrisy was not galling enough to both the workers themselves and most of the general public, the ‘hostile environment’ continued to threaten the livelihoods and wellbeing of huge numbers of key workers, including the 13% of NHS staff with non-British nationality.
As low paid team members such as cleaners metamorphosed overnight from the insulting epithet, ‘unskilled’ into ‘key workers’ whose vital roles were, at last, acknowledged, it also became horrifyingly clear how those from the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities were being disproportionately affected by Covid-19 while willingly working on the front line.
The call to end migrant charging was also a key demand in our recent #6Demands Petition on Change.org which has over a quarter of a million signatures and rising.
The health surcharge levied on migrant health and care workers coming from outside the European Economic Area, who were facing an NHS bill of as much as £2,500 per year for a family of four, totalling £50,000 over 10 years for those arriving in the UK to get citizenship has been a national disgrace and is in direct conflict of the founding principles of an NHS free at the point of use for all.
Many migrant workers have spoken of the relentless working environment, struggles to pay their rent and a heavy toll on family life. When Prime Minister Johnson was asked in parliament about lifting the surcharge on 20th May, he both paid tribute to “our amazing NHS staff” while simultaneously declaring: “We must look at the realities . . . those contributions help us raise about £900m”.
The Conservatives previously argued that people on a work, study or family visa incur average NHS costs of £625 per year. This claim was shown to be baseless by the independent fact-checking charity ‘fullfact.org’. Fundamentally, it ignored the fact that workers pay into the system through taxation that then funds the NHS.
In addition, no mention is made of the huge economic benefit to the UK of employing those from overseas and the tremendous cost savings from not having had to pay for their training before they came to work in the UK.
Johnson’s claim quickly unravelled since according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the surcharge generated not £900m but only £90m a year. Even a number of prominent Conservative politicians spoke of the surcharge as “appalling and immoral”, saying that not to drop it was “mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty”.
In an increasingly indefensible position, the government has already backtracked on leaving low paid workers out of a bereavement scheme which granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK to relatives of foreign national NHS staff who died from Covid-19.
With mounting disquiet within his own ranks together with mass opposition from campaigning organisations such as Keep Our NHS Public, NHS Staff Voices, trade unions and other migrant bodies, Johnson reversed his decision, leaving Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to announce this U-turn at the press conference on 21st May, a mere 24 hours after the PM’s House of Commons refusal.
This is a clear victory for those fighting against racism, against the hostile environment and for a universal and inclusive public NHS.
Now we must continue to demand the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) be lifted for all migrant workers and not just those in health and social care; for all key workers to be given the right to stay in the UK with no visa fees; for an end to the charging of ‘overseas visitors’ regulations and data-sharing practises that are doing so much harm.
We fully support the Docs Not Cops recent statement on the IHS;
The IHS is regressive, punitive and racist - often leading to extortionate charges that can push families into debt and forcing them to live apart.
It, of course, operates alongside other forms of immigration control in the NHS such as charging and data sharing, which operate to make accessing healthcare impossibly difficult for some people.
This article first appeared on the Keep Our NHS Public website. Reproduced with the author's permission.