Boris Johnson bowed to massive pressure to drop the NHS surcharge for foreign health and care workers tonight.
The PM declared that the levy will be dropped after senior Conservatives complained it was ‘immoral’ and ‘mean-spirited’ that those on the frontline of the coronavirus battle were being forced to pay.
Hassan Akkad, a BAFTA award winning filmmaker who has been working as an NHS cleaner during the outbreak, said he felt ‘stabbed in the back’.
But Mr Johnson insisted yesterday that the £400 annual fee for migrants raised £900million in essential funding, as he swatted away calls for charges to be waived.
That only fuelled the row as the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) that NHS staff and care workers accounted for just a tenth of that.
A No10 spokesman finally said this evening that Mr Johnson had now asked officials ‘to remove NHS and care workers from the NHS surcharge as soon as possible’.
‘As the PM said in the House of Commons, he has been thinking about this a great deal. He 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.’
The announcement came hours before Mr Johnson is due to join the weekly ‘clap for carers’ at 8pm.
And it follows another U-turn over excluding foreign NHS porters and cleaners from the coronavirus bereavement scheme, meaning that the relatives of those who died might be kicked out of the country.
The families of all staff who die from coronavirus will now be granted indefinite leave to remain, after anger that they were being ‘stabbed in the back’ by ministers.
Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street today) has bowed to massive pressure to drop the NHS surcharge for foreign health and care workers
Tory MP William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration select committee, led a backlash from Mr Johnson’s own side
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, (right) said if the PM (left in the Commons) scrapped the charge for these workers it would only shave off a tenth of the total income
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the PM to drop the fee, but his advances were stonewalled
Syrian refugee and award-winning filmaker Hassan Akkad, who took a cleaning job to help the NHS through the pandemic, has got the Government to change its bereavement scheme and is now demanding they scrap the charge for foreign NHS staff to use the health service
How much is the NHS surcharge and who has to pay it?
The NHS surcharge must be paid by all non-EU nationals seeking a visa to come to the UK.
For most immigrants it is £400, although students have a reduce rate of £300. The charge must also be met for dependents.
Arrivals have to pay up front for the total period of the visa they are being granted – so a two year permit would mean an £800 bill.
Part-years are counted as half the charge.
The standard rate is scheduled to increase again in October 2020, to £624 per year.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘Boris Johnson is right to have u-turned and backed our proposal to remove the NHS charge for health professionals and care workers.
‘This is a victory for common decency and the right thing to do. We cannot clap our carers one day and then charge them to use our NHS the next.’
Mr Johnson had staunchly refused to to drop the NHS immigrant fees when he was challenged by Sir Keir at PMQs yesterday.
He responded: ‘I’ve thought a great deal about this and I do accept and understand the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff and, like him, I’ve been a personal beneficiary of carers who have come from abroad and, frankly, saved my life.’
He added: ‘On the other hand we must look at the realities – this is a great national service, it’s a national institution, it needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900million, and it’s very difficult in the current circumstances to find alternative sources.
‘So with great respect to the point (he) makes, I do think that is the right way forward.’
But while the PM touted the surcharge as a £900milion revenue raiser, it was pointed out that axing the levy for just foreign health and care workers would cost just £90million.
Figures from the House of Commons Library, which produces impartial briefings for MPs, indicate that £917m is the amount raised by the surcharge over four years.
It estimated dropping the levy for NHS staff would cost around £35million a year – although including care workers would increaase that figure substantially.
Tory MP William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration select committee, led a backlash from Mr Johnson’s own side today.
He tweeted: ‘I will support the nhs fee exemption for migrant nhs and care workers. Now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good. I am sure that @conservatives colleagues will be supportive.’
Refugee Syrian filmmaker turned hospital cleaner tells PM his levy on foreign workers is ‘unfair, unjust and inhumane’
The Syrian refugee hospital cleaner who tearfully shamed Boris Johnson into a U-turn over banning foreign workers from the NHS’ bereavement scheme urged the PM earlier today to scrap the ‘inhumane’ charge forcing them to pay to use the health service.
Hassan Akkad said he felt ‘stabbed in the back’ because of the treatment of migrant workers who are risking their lives battling coronavirus will have to pay £624-a-year from October to access the NHS – an increase from the current £400 charge.
Speaking to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain this morning on his way to work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in east London, Mr Akkad said that the Prime Minister must now change his mind on the healthcare levy.
He said: ‘It’s unfair, it’s unjust and I would argue that it’s inhumane. For most cleaners and porters this is two weeks’ salary they have to pay to access the very same institution they are working for during the worst public health crisis in modern history’.
Former party chair Lord Pateen told BBC Radio 5 Live: ‘It’s appalling, it’s immoral. We depend in our care homes on people who come from other countries.
‘I think this is monstrous that people who come from overseas to help and risk their lives in really difficult circumstances aren’t treated properly.’
Stoke-on-Trent MP Jonathan Gullis tweeted: ‘I support the NHS fee exemption for migrant NHS and care workers.
‘Now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good.’
Veteran Conservative MP Sir Roger Gale said he was ‘strongly’ of the view that the charge should be waived for immigrants who were ‘saving lives’.
‘To do otherwise would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty – and the Prime Minister has none of those failings,’ he said.
The PM’s spokesman pointed to Mr Johnson’s words in the House ‘where he talked about accepting and understanding the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff but also making the point that the NHS is an amazing national institution that needs funding and contributions through the health surcharge has reached about £900million so far’.
That money ‘goes directly back into the NHS’, the spokesman said..
Security Minister James Brokenshire defended the PM’s position this morning, saying the situation is ‘complicated’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Well, I think, on the issue of the health surcharge, firstly it is obviously there to provide funding for the NHS and the basic principle that if you come to this country, that you are working, that you make that contribution.
‘But we have very firmly listened to the sort of situation in relation to the NHS. We’ve already put in place extensions to visas for health professionals, NHS health professionals, where they do not pay the NHS surcharge in that situation.’
He added: ‘The situation in relation to those people working within different functions in the NHS is more complicated because of the visa and immigration system that they are likely to be within.
‘In other words, if you are a doctor and nurse then you are on a specific visa when we have that direct contact with the NHS trust.
‘For those in social care, it is more disparate, which makes it more complicated and more challenging in terms of the situation.’
Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘The immigration health surcharge is a grossly unfair financial burden on our international workforce and we’re pleased to see the issue being taken seriously by politicians.
‘The Government must drop this charge as a matter of urgency.’
During their weekly dual across the Commons dispatch box, the PM said: ‘This is a great national service, it’s a national institution, it needs funding and those contributions actually help us to raise about £900million’