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Coronavirus UK: Boris Johnson drops NHS foreign workers charge

Boris Johnson bowed to massive pressure to drop the NHS surcharge for foreign health and care workers tonight – his second U-turn in 24 hours. 

The PM declared that the £400-a-year 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 fuelled the row yesterday by suggesting at PMQs that the policy raised £900million in essential funding for the health service. 

That prompted the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) to wade in, saying that in fact the 225,000 foreign NHS staff and care workers accounted for only around £90million a year. Even Tory MPs slammed the claim, saying the true costs was a ‘fraction of the total sum’.

A No10 spokesman finally said this evening that Mr Johnson had 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 – which was hailed by Labour’s Keir Starmer as a ‘victory for common sense’ – came hours before Mr Johnson is due to join the weekly ‘clap for carers’ at 8pm.

And it followed another climbdown 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. 

In another turbulent day of coronavirus developments: 

  • Nicola Sturgeon announced Scots could be able to have neighbours round for a BBQ and play tennis from next weekend;
  • Almost 24million people entered the UK with no coronavirus checks in the first three months of 2020;
  • NHS and care workers will finally get free coronavirus antibody tests after Number 10 agreed a deal with pharmaceutical giant Roche;
  • Drug-maker AstraZeneca revealed it has capacity to make 1billion doses of the Oxford University’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine;
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested the government could make taking a vaccine compulsory in the future; 
  • Coronavirus is still infecting 61,000 people every week in England but the outbreak is ‘relatively stable’, according to government surveillance figures;
  • Fewer than half of Brits aged 19 to 30 say they are still sticking to the government’s lockdown rules to fight coronavirus, a major study revealed;
  • More than five million people have been infected with coronavirus worldwide, with Latin America now seeing the largest rise in cases each day.
Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street today) has bowed to massive pressure to drop the NHS surcharge for foreign health and care workers

Boris Johnson (pictured in Downing Street today) has bowed to massive pressure to drop the NHS surcharge for foreign health and care workers








Syrian refugee and award-winning filmaker Hassan Akkad (pictured with his BAFTA in 2017) took a cleaning job to help the NHS through the pandemic. He secured another victory tonight with the dropping of the NHS surcharge for health and care workers, after getting the the Government to change its coronavirus bereavement scheme

Syrian refugee and award-winning filmaker Hassan Akkad (pictured with his BAFTA in 2017) took a cleaning job to help the NHS through the pandemic. He secured another victory tonight with the dropping of the NHS surcharge for health and care workers, after getting the the Government to change its coronavirus bereavement scheme

Tory MP William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration select committee, led a backlash from Mr Johnson's own side

Keir Starmer said it was a 'victory for common decency'

Tory MP William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration select committee, led a backlash from Mr Johnson’s own side (left). Keir Starmer said it was a ‘victory for common decency’ (right)








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

The total death toll for the UK yesterday (363) was the lowest mid-week number for almost two months, since March 25 - the week lockdown began. Experts say almost a third of hospitals have not reported COVID-19 deaths for two days or more

The total death toll for the UK yesterday (363) was the lowest mid-week number for almost two months, since March 25 – the week lockdown began. Experts say almost a third of hospitals have not reported COVID-19 deaths for two days or more

What is the Immigration Health Surcharge? How much is it and who pays?

Workers coming to the UK from outside the European Economic Area are required to pay the fee in order to be able to use the health service.

The NHS surcharge costs £300 per year for student visas and £400 per year for all other visa and immigration applications. It is being put up to £624-a-year from October. And from next January, it will be extended to all EU citizens who move here after Brexit is completed. 

For students it is £300 a year, while for workers it is £400. 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.  

Critics have questioned the need for people to pay it if the person is also paying income tax and national insurance contributions while working in the UK. 

Who needs to pay? 

  • Any national of a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA) not in an exempted category;
  • Or anyone applying for a visa to work, study or join your family in the UK for more than 6 months;

For immigration applications made from within the UK, you need to pay if:

  • You’re a national of a country outside the EEA or if you’re making an immigration application for any length of time, including applications for 6 months or less.

Who does not need to pay? 

  •  You’re applying for indefinite leave to enter or remain
  • You’re a diplomat or a member of a visiting armed forces;
  • You’re a dependant of a member of the UK’s armed forces or the dependant of a member of another country’s armed forces;
  • You’re a family member of a European national
  • You’re applying for a visa for the Isle of Man or Channel Islands
  • You’re a British Overseas Territory citizen resident in the Falkland Islands
  • You’re an asylum seeker
  • A victim of slavery or human trafficking or domestic violence – or their relative; 

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.’ 

Critics said foreign NHS staff, from 200 countries around the globe, were being ‘charged twice’ because they also pay income tax and national insurance that funds the UK’s hospitals, GP surgeries and dentists.

Home Secretary Priti Patel had already given some ground in March, by saying around 2,800 doctors, nurses and paramedics would have their visas extended for a year with no charge. 

But Mr Johnson staunchly refused to to go further 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.’  

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’.

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’.

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.’   

Children's pictures of rainbows adorn the windows at 10 Downing Street

Children's pictures of rainbows adorn the windows at 10 Downing Street

Children’s pictures of rainbows adorn the windows at 10 Downing Street in tribute to the NHS and key workers

At the daily Downing Street briefing tonight Matt Hancock confirmed that an announcement on the NHS surcharge would be made in the coming days

At the daily Downing Street briefing tonight Matt Hancock confirmed that an announcement on the NHS surcharge would be made in the coming days

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'

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’

 

From the Calais Jungle to rubbing shoulders with A-listers: How Syrian political activist fled Assad regime and came to Britain on a fake passport before winning a Bafta – and took a job as NHS cleaner to say ‘thanks to the UK’ 

The Syrian refugee hospital cleaner whose tearful tweet shamed Boris Johnson into a U-turn on migrants’ rights is a Bafta-winning filmmaker who is documenting his work on the NHS’ Covid-19 wards for his 25,000-plus Twitter and Instagram followers.    

Hassan Akkad, 31, recorded a video message for the Prime Minister telling him he felt ‘stabbed in the back’ after learning low paid staff, mostly from abroad, had been barred from the UK bereavement scheme meaning their families could be deported if they die from coronavirus.

After forcing a Home Office U-turn on that issue last night, today he hit out at Mr Johnson’s ‘inhumane’ decision to charge foreign NHS staff £624-a-year from October to access NHS services themselves. The scheme will be extended to many EU nationals from January.   

Speaking to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain on his way to work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in east London, Mr Akkad, who says he is cleaning wards ‘to help the country through the pandemic’, insisted 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’.

The photographer and filmmaker, who fled Syria in 2012 where he was imprisoned and tortured  for protesting against the Assad regime, won a BAFTA award in 2017 for his BBC documentary  Exodus: Our Journey to Europe charting his three-year journey to Britain via the Calais Jungle camp. He made it to Britain in 2015 on a fake passport.

This month singer Dua Lipa chose her friend Hassan as her ‘hero of 2020’ for GQ magazine, and he has been documenting his time cleaning in an east London hospital on his Twitter account, which now has 20,000 followers. 

And on his popular Instagram page Mr Akkad, who is engaged to his Syrian fiancee Farah, is pictured with stars including Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Noel Fielding and Sam Smith who have supported his ‘Choose Love’ refugee rights campaign.

Hassan Akkad, pictured with Eddie Redmayne and Clemency Burton-Hill at a refugee event at the Grove in London, has become a household name after forcing the PM into a U-turn on rights for migrant NHS workers

Hassan Akkad, pictured with Eddie Redmayne and Clemency Burton-Hill at a refugee event at the Grove in London, has become a household name after forcing the PM into a U-turn on rights for migrant NHS workers








Mr Akkad with singer Sam Smith at Bestival

Hassan Akkad pictured with Eddie Redmayne and Clemency Burton-Hill at a refugee event at the Grove in London

Mr Akkad has also been pictured with Benedict Cumberbatch at a charity event and also Sam Smith at Bestival

This is the moment he landed at Heathrow on bogus documents in 2015, where he claimed asylum

In his award winning documentary he paid £3,500 for fake passports such as this Czech one (pictured) after attempts to get to the UK in lorries failed. He landed at Heathrow using bogus documents in 2015, where he claimed asylum at customs before settling in London

Today Syrian refugee Hassan Akkad (pictured in scrubs cleaning a toilet) said he been'stabbed in the back' after learning low paid staff were excluded from the NHS bereavement scheme in a video message sent to the PM, forcing a U-turn last night

Today Syrian refugee Hassan Akkad (pictured in scrubs cleaning a toilet) said he been’stabbed in the back’ after learning low paid staff were excluded from the NHS bereavement scheme in a video message sent to the PM, forcing a U-turn last night








But the PM is today under huge pressure to change his mind and is also facing a rebellion from his own backbenchers who also believe NHS and care workers from outside Europe should be exempt from paying the the government’s Immigration Health Surcharge, which will be extended to EU staff from January when Brexit is confirmed. 

Mr Akkad added: ‘Piers when I’m in the hospital I’m observing what’s going on around me and you can see people are genuinely discouraged by these policies the government keeps coming up with. The pandemic hasn’t finished yet, all these policies are coming through and the pandemic isn’t done, these people are still risking their lives’.

Yesterday Mr Akkad, a Bafta-winning photographer and filmmaker who took a hospital cleaning job ‘to help the country through the pandemic’, fought back tears as he recorded a message for the Prime Minister after completing his shift.

He said it was a ‘betrayal’ that the lowest paid staff in the NHS had been barred from the UK bereavement scheme meaning their families could be deported if they die from coronavirus. Hours after his extraordinary message the Home Office confirmed that they had changed the policy to include all staff.

Asked about the U-turn Mr Akkad told GMB: ‘I feel very proud and honoured to have played a small role in doing this, there was a lot of pressure from the unions and alot of people spoke out including Piers, which I congratulate him for doing.

‘I went out and did that video not knowing it would be shared thousands of times and viewed by millions of people. I’m so incredibly grateful to know the public is on our side’.    

Hassan Akkad arrived in Britain on September 27 2015, after completing a three-year journey after fleeing Damascus in 2012.

He had been arrested by President Assad’s secret police and tortured for protesting against the murderous regime.

In Syria he had a passion for photography and worked as a high school English teacher before fleeing with his Aunt.

He initially stayed in the Middle East, believing he could soon return to his home country, but it descended into civil war.

So instead he travelled to Turkey and then on to Europe via Greece, where he was crammed on to a packed dinghy that began sinking and was only saved when everyone on board threw all their belongings and bags into the Mediterranean.

Refugee cleaner’s message to the PM about his NHS ‘betrayal’ has been viewed 4m times

On Wednesday, Hassan Akkad posted a short clip of himself addressing the Prime Minister on Twitter in his car dressed in his scrubs expressing his feelings of shock and betrayal at being excluded from the policy.

Within the day, the Home Office confirmed the scheme had been extended to include cleaners, porters, social care and care home staff and will be effective immediately and retrospectively.

Addressing the Prime Minister, Mr Akkad said in the clip: ‘I have been really enjoying the clapping that you and your fellow ministers in the Government do every week but today however I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back.

‘I felt shocked to find out that your Government decided to exclude myself and my colleagues who work as cleaners and porters and social care workers.

‘We are all on minimum wage, you have decided to exclude us from the bereavement scheme, so if I die from coronavirus my partner isn’t allowed indefinite leave to remain.’

Mr Akkad, who is also a Bafta-award winning filmmaker and photographer, added: ‘This is your way of saying thank you to us.

‘Now I am sending you this message hoping you will reconsider because I did see a humble Boris after you were discharged from hospital, I saw a different Boris.

‘So us migrants are on the frontline doing these very demanding jobs to help this nation overcome this pandemic and the least you can do is if we die is give our families indefinite leave to remain.

‘Please reconsider and I hope to hear back from you. Thank you.’ He captioned the clip ‘I hope you can help me get this message delivered to Mr PM Boris Johnson’ and it has been viewed 3.7 million times and been retweeted nearly 50,000 times.

After travelling across Europe to Paris by train and lorry, he was then trafficked to Calais and stayed in in the camp for months, calling it a ‘graveyard of hopes’. He said: ‘I made over 50 attempts to get across on lorries, but they all failed. It was a dire experience.’ 

Each night he also tried swimming to clamber on to ferries and boats crossing the Channel to Britain, but always failed.

It was only when he paid £3,500 to people smugglers that he was able to enter the UK illegally, three years after leaving Syria. He was handed fake Czech and Bulgarian passports, flying from Brussels to Heathrow.

When he arrived at customs he claimed asylum and settled with a family in Brixton. Six months later he was granted right to remain in the UK for five years.    

His journey was charted after the BBC game him and other migrants small cameras to film their journeys, and was made into the film Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. It was nominated for a BAFTA in 2017 and won best factual film.

Collecting the award Mr Akkad said: ‘Exodus was my yesterday, but it’s somebody’s today and tomorrow’ before breaking down as he dedicated the Bafta to all the world’s migrants and their ‘untold stories’. 

Since then he has made another BBC documentary where he returned to the Calais Jungle to see if life had changed since his time there. He has also campaigned for the rights of refugees and has used social media to be critical of Government policy and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to back air strikes on Assad.

He has also spoken all over the world about his experiences as a migrant, and looks to be documenting his time in the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Downing Street today confirmed the planned increase in the surcharge from £400 a year to £624 would go ahead despite the opposition within the Conservative ranks to the fee being levied on overseas NHS and care staff.

Tory peer and former party chairman Lord Patten called the Government’s position ‘appalling’ and ‘monstrous’.

Former Conservative Party vice-chairman Sir Roger Gale warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that not to waive the current surcharge ‘would rightly be perceived as mean-spirited, doctrinaire and petty’.

Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee chairman William Wragg called for an immediate change in policy, adding ‘now is the time for a generosity of spirit towards those who have done so much good’.

The senior Tories echoed calls for the Government to scrap the NHS surcharge for migrant care workers coming from outside the European Economic Area. 

In his BBC film Exodus, he filmed the moment his packed dinghy began filling with water as he travelled to Europe via Greece

Mr Akkad, pictured with his fiancee Farah Haddad, who is also from Syria, has been demanding the Government to be more open to welcoming refugees to the UK, called the Choose Love campaign

Mr Akkad has also been pictured with Benedict Cumberbatch at a charity event

This month popstar Dua Lipa chose her friend Hassan as her ‘hero of 2020’ for GQ magazine because of his work to clean on the Covid-19 wards

Hassan with friends including Noel Fielding in London, which was captioned ‘My peeps’

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