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Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 18th May 2020.

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Photo of Rushanara Ali Rushanara Ali Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow 5:47 pm, 18th May 2020

If the covid-19 crisis has taught us anything, it is the value of key workers, so many of whom are immigrants to this country, as we see when we look at the names of the NHS and social care workers who have tragically died. They came from every corner of the globe to care for us and have given their lives for us. So many of the key workers in the UK are immigrants: about 180,000 workers in the NHS and social care sector are from the EU alone, and they are highly represented among the doctors and nurses in our NHS; and, of course, we also have the agriculture workers, food production workers and other key workers, who are keeping our country going at a time of crisis. For decades, we have undervalued them, but now we applaud them in the streets. When the applause dies, we cannot return to business as usual; we cannot go back to the hostile environment, the racism and xenophobia, the “go home” vans and the scandal of Windrush.

We understand that the world economy is about to fall off a cliff, so we must invest domestically, in skills, education and jobs for our constituents, to ensure that they do not face mass unemployment and hardship, but we will still need new immigrants to help us fill skill gaps, where they exist. Now is not the time to put up barriers because, as we have heard, if we do so, the NHS and social care system will be on its knees. The new global Britain must be open for business, welcoming those who want to roll up their sleeves and help us, just as previous generations did, including my parents’ generation, who made a contribution to this country as new Commonwealth migrants. So let us not forget the proud history of supporting and encouraging immigration appropriately to rebuild after the post-war period. This Bill does not meet our economic needs after covid, nor does it protect the NHS or the social care system. The major flaw in the Bill is the conflation, as others have said, of skills and salaries. Lots of low-paid workers have a huge range of skills; yet the Government are setting a bar of more than £25,000, which, as we have heard, will block many NHS and social care workers.

Unison has predicted that we will need an extra 1 million careworkers by 2025. Many of them earn between £16,500 and £18,500. We should be recruiting an army of carers so that we honour the generations that raised us, who should be supported and cared for in their later years. That will be put even further at risk if we do not ensure that we meet the skills gap and shortages. We need to ensure that we have a pragmatic policy on immigration. The Bill provides nothing of the sort.

Finally, I want to turn to other areas where the Bill does not address the challenges. In other countries, such as Portugal and elsewhere, Governments are looking at how to ensure that undocumented migrants—we have some 800,000 to 1 million undocumented migrants—are given the healthcare that is needed during the pandemic, where there could be a wider risk.

When the Prime Minister emerged from hospital, he thanked staff, especially the two nurses from New Zealand and Portugal. Despite his praise, it is his Government’s policies that are making them suffer. The proposed surcharge on NHS workers coming to the UK could be as much as £8,000 for a family of four on a five-year visa. That is a huge amount of money, and it is an absolute disgrace that the Government are considering that surcharge. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that that does not happen.

There are many flaws in the Bill, as others have pointed out, including the power grab by Ministers. Why should anyone trust Ministers who presided over the “Go Home” vans and the Windrush scandal? For those reasons, the Bill is not fit for purpose and does not recognise that we need a new settlement and a new consensus, having seen the contribution of migrants to our national health service in protecting and saving lives. The Bill is not fit for purpose, and for that reason I will vote against it.