Boris Johnson’s reasoning for refusing to exempt foreign NHS workers from the healthcare surcharge began unravelling tonight when a top economist slapped down his suggestion it would cost hundreds of millions.
The Prime Minister today hailed the £400 annual fee for migrants as a £900million revenue raiser, as he swatted away calls for the government to waive the levy for NHS staff from overseas.
But Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said scrapping the charge for these workers would only shave off a tenth of the total revenue raised.
He put the cost to the Exchequer at nearer £90million, raising eyebrows as to why the PM used the overall £900million figure during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The government has faced mounting pressure to exempt foreign health workers – many of whom are on the coronavirus frontline – from paying extra for NHS services.
Boris Johnson’s reasoning for refusing to exempt foreign NHS workers from the healthcare surcharge began unravelling tonight (pictured speaking in the Commons today)
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
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged the PM to drop the fee, but his advances were stonewalled.
During their weekly dual across the Commons dispatch box, the PM said: ‘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 (Sir Keir) makes, I do think that is the right way forward.’
But while the PM touted the surcharge as a £900milion revenue raiser, it was quickly pointed out that axing the levy for just foreign health and care workers would cost merely £90million.
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’
Before tonight’s broadcast bulletins aired, ITV political editor Robert Peston tweeted: ‘Paul Johnson of @TheIFS, who knows a thing or two about the public finances, says exempting migrant health and care workers from the NHS surcharge would cost around £90m, a tenth of the £900m @BorisJohnson said it would cost in reply to @Keir_Starmer today.’
Responding to the PM’s rejection, Sir Keir said he was ‘disappointed’ as the Mr Johnson knows ‘how raw’ the issue is.
Labour is seeking an amendment to the forthcoming Immigration Bill to shoehorn in the exemption.
The party claimed a care worker being paid the National Living Wage would need to work around 70 hours to pay off the surcharge when it rises to £624 in October.
Labour has announced today that it will seek to table an amendment to the Immigration Bill to exempt NHS staff and care professionals from this charge.
SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford also called for the immigration health surcharge to be removed immediately, describing it as ‘cruel’.
He said: ‘The Home Secretary (Priti Patel) and the Prime Minister seem hell-bent on implementing a purely ideological immigration policy with no basis in fairness or economics. This Government has talked about giving back to our NHS and care staff, well it’s time for the Prime Minister to deliver.
‘People migrating to these nations and choosing to work in our NHS and our care sector must have this Government’s cruel NHS surcharge removed, and removed immediately.
‘Will the Prime Minister make that pledge today or will he clap on Thursday hoping that no-one really notices that he’s giving with one hand and raking it in with the other?’
Mr Johnson responded: ‘This is the party that is putting more into the NHS – £34 billion – the biggest investment in modern times and believe me we will continue with that investment.’
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.’
Downing Street has been approached for comment.