Government breaks pledge to stop low-paid health & care staff paying twice to use the NHS

Boris Johnson promised a lifeline to low-paid workers then callously pulled it away

The government has rowed back on a pledge to scrap the immigration health surcharge, which forces overseas health and care workers to pay to use the NHS, even though they already pay for it through tax and national insurance, says UNISON today (Thursday).

Instead of scrapping the fee, low-paid health and care staff have been told they’ll have to pay it and claim the money back. A family of four on a three-year visa would have to find £7,488.

The stress and anxiety of trying to scrape the money together while on low wages and working on the Covid frontline is pushing workers to the brink, says UNISON.

A public outcry in May forced the Prime Minister to pledge to exempt health and social care workers from the charge, introduced in 2015 as part of the government’s ‘hostile environment’ strategy, the union says

But instead of exempting all staff from the charge, the government’s created a system where only tier 2 visa holders, which includes doctors, nurses and paramedics, are totally exempt.

All non-tier 2 visa holders – those in lower paid health and care jobs – will have to pay the cash upfront and claim back a refund every six months for the life of their visa, says UNISON.

To add insult to injury, says UNISON, the government recently increased the charge by £224 to £624.

UNISON South East regional secretary Steve Torrance said: “The government has sunk to new depths with this announcement and frontline staff deserve better. Boris Johnson has shamelessly promised a lifeline to low-paid workers struggling to make ends meet, then callously pulled it away.

“Staff still have to find the money to pay the charge. They must scrimp, save and cut back, with all the worry and anxiety that means.

“No overseas worker should have to pay twice to use the NHS. Forcing them to do so when they’re working to care for us all is unforgivable.

“The government must make good on its promise and properly scrap the charge once and for all.”

Notes to editors:
– Health and care workers have shared their experiences of the surcharge with UNISON (names have been changed).
– Susan, a nurse, is not eligible for the surcharge exemption said: “Myself, my husband and two children have moved into a one-bedroom flat to reduce costs and save money for their visa renewals. It’s a real strain but we came to the UK to work in healthcare so we’ll just have to find the money.”
– Debbie and her husband are both care workers. She said: “We’re working every hour we can to save money for the visa fees for us and our three children. We’re struggling to save money and feed our children. We’re not eligible for child benefit or universal credit. I don’t know how we’ll find the money we need when our visas come up for renewal in December.”
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sector

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