The “Health Surcharge” for non-EU migrants was introduced by the Conservative government in 2015 with a promise in the 2017 manifesto that it would be tripled to £600. This was to be an annual fee paid by the applicant and all their dependents and to be paid upfront as part of the application process. Xenophobes no doubt rejoiced at the prospect of taxing migrants but, fortunately for the tolerant majority, the election did not go well for the Conservatives and the fee was reduced to £400.
Introduced this January, it is still more of a supercharge than a surcharge and is accompanied by hostile exhortations on the website such as: “You must complete the payment and return to the online application in less than 30 minutes”.
With Brexit weeks away and a shortage of doctors across the board is this our best attempt to present Britain as a welcoming country for international medical graduates? Before starting work doctors already pay visa fees (£1200), GMC registration (£400), airfares and down-payments on accommodation, and all pay tax from the day they start working. The logical extension of this punitive charge on migrants for not paying UK tax before they come to the UK, is surely to charge all those who, through no fault of their own, pay no tax, be they the unemployed, the low-waged or children. Should we not charge them all £400 a year to support the NHS? It is surely only for reasons of political expediency that the charge is levelled just at migrants.
It is time to listen again to Nye Bevan who faced similar calls to restrict and monetise the treatment of migrants. He wrote in his 1952 book of essays In Place of Fear:
“The whole agitation has a nasty taste. Instead of rejoicing at the opportunity to practise a civilized principle, Conservatives have tried to exploit the most disreputableemotions in this among many other attempts to discredit socialized medicine.”
Amen we said to that in 1952. We say it again in 2019.
Retired Consultant Physician
President North of England Association of Physicians