Blog: A u-turn from the government and a real victory for our union

This week, years of UNISON campaigning and lobbying brought about a massive change for many of our members. UNISON has opposed the Immigration Health Surcharge since its inception in 2015, for a simple reason – it’s fundamentally unfair. Migrant workers already contribute to the NHS the same way we all do – by paying their taxes.

Not only do migrant workers make a “fair contribution” and then pay extra with the surcharge, those working in the NHS, social care and other health roles make a third contribution with their work. They provide care for others, day in day out, knowing that they have to pay extra to access healthcare for themselves and their families.

During the pandemic, they’ve done this knowing they are risking their lives at the same time.

Back in 2018, one nurse told us that she was already trying to save £150 every month, by working more overtime, to pay the health surcharge before her visa renewal in 2020. She calculated that it would cost her almost £2,000 altogether. This was money that couldn’t be used to buy food, pay rent or bills.

This is a clear injustice, and one UNISON is determined to reverse. We have lobbied ministers, civil servants and employers. We have campaigned with health and migrant rights charities against the charge. We have worked with opposition politicians to consistently raise the concerns of UNISON members.

So yesterday’s announcement that the government would be scrapping the charge for health and social care workers was a real victory for our union, and forced the government into a screeching u-turn. It means that many UNISON members, migrants working in health and social care, looking after our communities, will be spared this deeply unfair charge. But UNISON won’t stop there. We will continue to campaign for the surcharge to be scrapped for everyone. So that no UNISON member – no migrant whatsoever – is expected to pay extra to access the NHS that exists for all of us, an NHS so many of them have helped to build, an NHS that relies on their contributions.