UNISON’s Women’s Conference voted for a motion that will fight back for pregnant migrant women who are facing fees of £7,000 and upwards if their immigration statuses are in flux.
The cruel policy is forcing healthcare staff to act as immigration enforcement and debt collectors, going against the Hippocratic oath.
As Milton Keynes Branch Secretary Mary Moore stated, the fees represent the UK’s “hostile environment for migrants.”
A pregnant woman without secure immigration status is looking at a fee of £7,000 for giving birth in the UK. And this is for a birth without complications: should the mother or her child face any unexpected issues during the birth, fees can leap up.
The hostile environment also forces healthcare workers to report patients with debts of £500 or more to the Home Office, if the ‘debts’ have been outstanding for two months or longer.
The Government is aware repayments will be impossible and is, therefore, using the rule to bar these vulnerable women from healthcare they desperately need
Although women in receipt of asylum support (or trafficking survivors) should not be charged for NHS care, those who have had their asylum claim refused receive eye-watering bills. And even those who are eligible for free healthcare often fall through the net and are charged, but where an individual is supposed to source the money to pay such a debt is unclear. The Government seems to care more about enforcing the hostile environment than caring for vulnerable pregnant women – and by being reported, women face interrogations by the Home Office and possibly even deportation.
Moore continued: “One of the penalties of unpaid debt is deportation. For asylum seekers, this means going back to oppression, war, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and torture. Even worse: she’ll have to take her new-born baby back to that environment with her.”
The motion stated that the failure to breakdown costs are designed to create a hostile environment for migrant women. As the women have no way to pay the costs, it is clear the Government is aware repayments will be impossible and is, therefore, using the rule to bar these vulnerable women from healthcare they desperately need.
An activist toolkit designed to help pregnant migrant women is now available thanks to Maternity Action, a charity that specialises in assisting pregnant women in all areas of antenatal care and postnatal care.
The Government seems to care more about enforcing the hostile environment than caring for vulnerable pregnant women
As Maternity Action’s research asks, why are these charges being implemented without considering women’s financial and immigration statuses? Many women being charged have no way to access funds through work due to the UK law that prevents asylum seekers from working. And even so, heavily pregnant women shouldn’t be looking for a job in the first place.
In their report Duty of Care, Maternity Action found that as the women face hurdles and trauma because of such unfair and hostile policies, the professionals are undergoing emotional turmoil too. Midwives report pressure from management to consider financial incentives for hospital trusts as well as misconduct charges potentially arising if midwives are suspected of providing deliberately unclear information.
The median salary currently stands at £30,420 per annum for a UK citizen in work, so even the average earning Briton would find a £7,000 charge for bringing a child into the world extortionate. It is simply inhumane. It does not exist to fund the NHS but instead acts as a tool for locating vulnerable migrants who can be easily tracked and potentially deported.
[Header image: Suhyeon Choi]