Keir Starmer has declared that the government U-turn on the immigration health surcharge is a “victory for common decency”, after it was announced that the fee would be scrapped for NHS and care workers.
The opposition leader tweeted that he welcomed the move by Boris Johnson to back the Labour proposal, just 24 hours after the Tory leader had defended maintaining the charge for all migrants during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Starmer had raised the issue on Wednesday afternoon, asking whether the charge was fair on health and care workers. The Prime Minister defended the policy and incorrectly suggested a change would cost £900m.
But the government performed a U-turn this afternoon, following pressure from backbench Conservative MPs who publicly and privately said they would support the move to exempt migrant NHS and care workers.
A spokesperson for 10 Downing Street said: “As the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons, he has been thinking about this a great deal. He has been a personal beneficiary of carers from abroad and understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff.
“The purpose of the NHS surcharge is to benefit the NHS, help to care for the sick and save lives. NHS and care workers from abroad who are granted visas are doing this already by the fantastic contribution which they make.”
In response to the news, UK Labour tweeted: “We did it. Scrapping the NHS charge for health and care workers from abroad is the right thing to do.
“We’re glad the government listened to the thousands of people who stood by carers with us. These workers have our backs, we will always have theirs.”
UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said the move was “long overdue”, adding: “It’s a moral injustice to ask migrant staff to make double the contribution of others and pay extra for the very services they help provide.”
“This must also apply to the workers’ families. And the government should go further by removing the charge for all migrant workers.”
Johnson’s figure of £900m had been contested by Labour’s Seema Malhotra, who obtained figures from the Commons library showing that this was in fact the total sum earned from the charge since 2015. The exemption is estimated to cost between £1.2m and £35m.
This latest U-turn on policy follows another by the Home Office last night, which saw the government agree to extend the coronavirus NHS bereavement scheme to include NHS support staff and care workers.