SNP claim NHS ‘not safe’ under Westminster control as UK Government unveil plans to slash net migration
Amid growing turmoil in Rishi Sunak’s party over migration figures, the Home Secretary announced on Monday sweeping changes that he promised would deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration.
James Cleverly said overseas care workers will be barred from bringing family dependants and the salary threshold for skilled workers will be hiked to £38,700.
Speaking afterwards, the SNP Immigration spokesperson, Chris Stephens MP claimed “it is clear that the biggest threat to Scotland's NHS is Westminster control”.He said: “Scotland is already suffering from labour shortages as a result of Westminster’s Brexit and migration policy - particularly within our public services - and the steps set out today will further hamper our ability to recruit from overseas.
"Both the Tories and Labour are wedded to this flawed plan along with the privatisation of our NHS. Just yesterday Sir Keir Starmer praised Margaret Thatcher - the architect of NHS privatisation - of delivering “meaningful change” to the UK.
“Scotland’s NHS is not safe under Westminster control no matter the colour of its government. Independence is the only way we can get rid of Westminster governments we don’t vote for for good and create an immigration system that meets the needs of Scotland's public services."
It follows official estimates saying levels of net migration had peaked at 745,000 in 2022.
Labour were also deeply critical, with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accusing the Prime Minister of being in a “chaotic panic”.She said: “Today’s statement is an admission of years of total failure by this Conservative Government.
“Failure on the immigration system and failure on the economy – it is another example of the total chaos at the heart of this Government.
“Net migration has trebled since the last election – since the Conservatives promised to reduce it – and it’s trebled as a result of their policies on the economy and on immigration, including the Prime Minister’s policy decisions.
“In a chaotic panic the Prime Minister now opposes the policies he introduced and thinks that their own decisions are a problem, but who does the Home Secretary think has been in charge for the last 13 years? More chaos, more veering all over the place.”
There was also fury from the unions, with Unison, who include health workers among its members, saying the changes “spell total disaster for the NHS and social care”.
General secretary Christina McAnea said: “Migrant workers were encouraged to come here because both sectors are critically short of staff. Hospitals and care homes simply couldn’t function without them.
“There’s also a global shortage of healthcare staff. Migrants will now head to more-welcoming countries, rather than be forced to live without their families.
“The Government is playing roulette with essential services just to placate its backbenchers and the far right.
“But if ministers stopped ducking the difficult issues and reformed social care, as they’ve long promised, there wouldn’t be such a shortage of workers.
“None of this is rocket science. Fund care properly and raise wages, and the sector becomes a more attractive place to work, but take away the migrant workers currently stopping care from going under and it collapses.”
Under what he described as a five-point plan, Mr Cleverly said he would stop health and care workers bringing dependants and hike the skilled worker earnings threshold by a third to £38,700, in line with the median full-time wage,He also promised an end “cut-price” labour by stopping shortage occupations being able to pay 20 per cent ess than the going rate and reforming the shortage occupation list.The minimum income for family visas will also rise from £26,200 to £38,700, while the Migration Advisory Committee will continue to review the graduate immigration route to prevent abuse.
He also said the Government would increase the health surcharge this year by 66 per cent from £624 to £1,035.
The plans are very similar to those put forward by Robert Jenrick, the minister for immigration, who previously had cartoon murals painted over at an immigration centre for being too welcoming.
Privately, two Whitehall sources claimed Mrs Braverman and immigration minister Robert Jenrick had pushed for the cap to go higher, to £45,000.
Mr Cleverly said: “Enough is enough. We are curbing abuses to the health care visa.
“We are increasing thresholds, cutting the SOL (shortage occupation list) discount, increasing family income requirements and cutting the number of student dependants.”
He said the plan, along with changes for international students, “will deliver the biggest ever reduction in net migration”.
In total, he said it would mean around 300,000 fewer people come to the Britain in future years than last year.
The salary threshold increase is lower than the £40,000 in the deal the Prime Minister allegedly agreed with his since-sacked home secretary Ms Braverman to win her support for the Tory leadership.
Mr Sunak has been under growing pressure from Tory MPs after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revised its net migration figure to put 2022 at a record high of 745,000.
Accounting for the difference between the number of people arriving in the country and those leaving, the figure for the year to June 2023 is estimated to have been slightly lower, at 672,000.
The Prime Minister has sought to blame the “very large numbers” on his predecessors, saying he had “inherited” the levels.
They are three times higher than before Brexit despite the 2019 Tory election manifesto promising to bring overall numbers down.
He is also facing a challenge to deliver his pledge to “stop the boats” crossing the Channel after his flagship asylum policy was deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court.
Mr Cleverly is expected to head to Kigali to finalise a new treaty with Rwanda this week, which ministers hope will help convince judges otherwise.
No 10 said they were still working “urgently” to secure the deal and to produce “emergency” legislation which was promised after the legal defeat last month.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.