Lower skilled migrant NHS staff included in bereavement scheme

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Hassan Akkad Syrian refugee, film maker and NHS cleaner

Hassan Akkad

Comments by Sanwar Ali:

The extension of the bereavement scheme will be a relief for the thousands of lower skilled workers who risk their lives in the NHS.   The bereavement scheme for family members of NHS staff will now include NHS support staff and care workers. 

Any non-EEA family member of any NHS worker, including support staff, or a healthcare or social care worker who has died due to coronavirus will receive indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) free of charge.  In addition, it has been announced that following pressure from MPs that the Immigration Health Surcharge will not need to be paid by NHS workers and care workers in future.  It remains for other types of workers on UK visa schemes such as the Tier 2 visa scheme and for their dependents.

So-called, low-skilled migrant NHS staff such as cleaners, porters and social care workers have been included in a coronavirus bereavement scheme following a government U-turn. The scheme, which grants indefinite leave to remain in the UK for families of migrant NHS workers who pass away while battling coronavirus, initially did not include low-paid staff.

The government’s initial decision to exclude so-called, low-skilled key workers was met with opposition from the Labour Party, trade unions and NHS staff themselves. The NHS coronavirus bereavement scheme was introduced in April with the intention of offering secure UK immigration status to bereaved families of migrant NHS personnel.

The GMB union described the exclusion of vital staff such as cleaners, porters and social care workers as an ‘outrageous scandal,’ arguing that it was yet another example of the government leaving low-paid workers ‘out in the cold.’

Pleas to extend bereavement scheme

According to a report published by The Guardian, just hours before the Home Office’s U-turn, a video posted on Twitter by a hospital cleaner pleaded with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to extend the scheme.

In the video, Bafta-winning filmmaker from Syria and NHS porter, Hassan Akkad, said: “I’m proud of the work I do, but I felt stabbed in the back when I found out I didn’t qualify for the Home Office scheme.”

“I’ve been really enjoying the clapping that you and your fellow ministers in the government do every week, I felt shocked to find out that you’ve decided, your government decided, to exclude myself and my colleagues who work as cleaners and porters and social care workers who are … all on minimum wage, you’ve decided to exclude us from the bereavement scheme,” Mr Akkad added.

Upon announcing the extension of the bereavement scheme, Priti Patel said: “Every death in this crisis is a tragedy, and sadly some NHS support staff and social care workers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of saving the lives of others.

“Back in April, when I first announced the scheme, I said that we would continue to work across government to look at ways to offer further support. So, we have decided to extend the scheme to all NHS support staff and social care workers. We want to ensure families have the support they need and so this will be effective immediately and retrospectively.”

Chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, said the extension is ‘very good news’. Posting on Twitter, she said that her committee had been pushing on the extension for weeks and that it would be ‘unthinkable, to ask family who lost a loved one on the UK COVID-19 social care frontline to leave their home and the UK.’

Immigration health surcharge scrapped for NHS workers and carers

On 21 May 2020 a spokesperson for Boris Johnson said that NHS workers and carers would be exempt from the immigration health surcharge as soon as possible.  Boris Johnson had previously said that the controversial immigration health surcharge will not be scrapped, for healthcare workers saying ‘it cannot be done because amid the coronavirus it’s difficult to find other sources of cash.’ 

The surcharge is set to increase in October, rising from the current annual rate of £400 to £624 per year, which all family members have to pay.

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