The fee charged to migrants to the UK to use the NHS has been quietly raised by £224 – and Labour have warned it will hit the UK’s care workers hardest.
The increase, which will see the price rise from £400 to £624, was voted on by just a handful of MPs in the Tenth Delegated Legislation Committee on the same day the PM announced sweeping measures to try and contain a second spike of Covid-19 in the UK.
Labour has accused the Government of breaking promises to frontline care staff with plans to increase the cost of the NHS for foreign workers in the UK.
In May, the Government committed to removing the Immigration Health Surcharge for health and care workers.
But many who are working on the frontline are currently still required to pay the charge and be reimbursed at a later date.
It means migrant staff have to pay twice for health care in the UK – once in their visa and again in taxes on their earnings.
Doctors, nurses and paramedics had already been exempted from the surcharge.
But Labour is warning that a majority of care workers won’t meet the criteria for the exemptions under the proposed new health and care visa -leaving them on the hook for the costly bill that they may have to wait months to see refunded.
According to Labour, the rise will be unaffordable for many care workers in the country, who earn £19,104 a year on average. A family of two care workers with a child would face a bill of up to £1,718.
Opposing the increase before it passed on Tuesday, Shadow immigration minister Holly Lynch said: “We cannot support the increase in the health surcharge at a time when access to healthcare is essential, in the middle of a global public health crisis.
“We need fewer barriers to healthcare, not more.
“That is particularly true in relation to those already in the UK.”
She said the change did not reflect “the spirit of ‘clap for key workers and the genuine gratitude that we feel to those on the frontline”.
“Many of those we are landing with an increased bill will be in lower-paid but essential work as part of those efforts,” she added.
She also said that despite the promises to staff in health and social care
“There has been strong support for those working in health and social care it “does little to remove the burden of the health surcharge fees”
She added that the current way of waiving the fees, by refunding them late, “is an excessively bureaucratic measure that illustrates the disconnect between policymakers and health workers”.
Home Office Minister Kevin Foster insisted the changes would not affect the fight against the Coronavirus.
He said: “To be clear, anyone who needs treatment for Covid-19 may approach the NHS for it.
“Across the United Kingdom, there is no charge for that, and whether people are able to access treatment does not in any way relate to their immigration status.”
Mr Foster said the increase in cost reflected an analysis into the cost borne by the NHS for treating people and that the changes were necessary because of changes pending in UK immigration law when we leave our transition period with the EU
He added: “The Government recognise the value and importance of migration to the UK. We welcome talented individuals and the contribution they make to our economy, our communities and our public services.
“However, it is right that migrants contribute to the comprehensive and high-quality NHS services available to them from the moment they arrive.
“The Department of Health and Social Care has estimated that the cost to the NHS of treating charge payers in England is roughly £625 per person, based on the analysis carried out in April 2019 using 2017-18 NHS England data.”
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