Boris Johnson rejects Labour calls to drop Health Immigration Surcharge

20 May 2020, 12:32

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Labour leader Keir Starmer has used the final Prime Minister's Questions for two weeks to urge the Government to drop the NHS surcharge for overseas health professionals and care workers.

With the Labour leader and the Prime Minister facing off across the dispatch box for the third time after Bors Johnson recovered from coronavirus, the new Labour leader brought up the issue of the Health Immigration Surcharge.

The Health Immigration Surcharge is £400 per year and set to rise to £624 in October.

He urged the Prime Minister to drop the issue from the Immigration Bill and to make NHS staff and care professionals exempt from the charge.

The Labour leader addresses the House of Commons at PMQs
The Labour leader addresses the House of Commons at PMQs. Picture: PA

The move comes after Mr Johnson announced the deaths of 181 NHS staff and 131 social care workers have been reported as involving Covid-19.

The PM told the Commons: "I know the thoughts of the whole House are with their families and friends."

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Labour Leader Keir Starmer told the Commons: “Every Thursday we go out and clap for our carers. Many of them are risking their lives for the sake of all of us.

“Does the Prime Minister think it’s right that care workers coming from abroad and working on our frontline should have to pay a surcharge of hundreds – sometimes thousands of pounds – to use the NHS themselves?”

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The Prime Minister rejected the Labour leader's calls
The Prime Minister rejected the Labour leader's calls. Picture: PA

Boris Johnson responded that he had "thought a great deal" about the issue, adding that he had recently been a "beneficiary of people who've come from abroad, and frankly saved my life."

However, the Prime Minister said "we must look at the realities, this is a great national service" and a "national institution" which "needs funding, and those contributions actually help us to raise £900 million."

Mr Johnson said it was "very difficult" to find alternatives in the "current circumstances" to find other sources of income.

Keir Starmer responded and said a care worker being paid the National Living Wage would need to work around 70 hours to pay off that fee.

The Labour leader told the Prime Minister that it was a "raw" issue, adding he was "disappointed" the PM would not look at dropping the charge.

He cited a letter from the BMA and a number of medical unions who wrote to the Home Secretary which said, "At a time when we are mourning colleagues, your steadfast refusal to reconsider the deeply unfair immigration health surcharge is a gross insult to all who are serving this country at its time of greatest need."

Mr Staermer added that Labour would table an amendment to the bill to exempt NHS and care workers from the charge.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also criticised the Government's treatment of health care workers in its immigration legislation.

He told the Commons: "On Monday, the Prime Minister ordered his MPs to vote for a Immigration Bill that defines many in the NHS and care sector as 'low-skilled workers'. Given their sacrifice, Prime Minister, is he not embarrassed that this is how his Government chooses to treat NHS and care workers?"

Mr Johnson responded: "This is a Government that values immensely the work of everybody in our National Health Service, in our care workers and across the whole community.

"And I can tell him the reason for having an Immigration Bill of the kind that we are is not to keep out people who can help our NHS, on the contrary, we want an immigration system that works for the people of this country and works for our NHS.

"And I think what the people of this country want to see is an immigration system where we control it and we understand it and we are able to direct it according to the needs of our NHS and the needs of our economy and that's what we're putting in place."

Mr Blackford called for the NHS surcharge to be removed immediately, describing it as "cruel".

He said: "The Home Secretary (Priti Patel) and the Prime Minister seem hell-bent on implementing a purely ideological immigration policy with no basis in fairness or economics. This Government has talked about giving back to our NHS and care staff, well it's time for the Prime Minister to deliver.

"People migrating to these nations and choosing to work in our NHS and our care sector must have this Government's cruel NHS surcharge removed, and removed immediately. Will the Prime Minister make that pledge today or will he clap on Thursday hoping that no-one really notices that he's giving with one hand and raking it in with the other?"

Mr Johnson responded: "This is the party that is putting more into the NHS - £34 billion - the biggest investment in modern times and believe me we will continue with that investment."