The recent example of a mother being handed a £6,000 bill for giving birth shows the horrifying impact of the Tories’ “hostile environment” policy towards migrants.
Just over one year ago, the founding principles of the NHS were swept aside by outrageous Tory policy. Once a caring institution that provided universal services, free at the point of use, NHS staff began having to ask for upfront charges from foreign-born patients, along with passports and immigration details.
Over the last 12 months, this has created a system of racial profiling, discrimination, higher infant mortality rates, a costly bureaucracy, more mental health problems, and the spread of easily preventable diseases as less people turn up to GPs or hospitals, fearful of deportation. As far back as 2014, even, non-EU migrants were being charged for maternity care.
With their racist propaganda, the Tories act as if ‘swarms’ of refugees and healthcare tourists are draining our NHS. In reality, the drain is the result of capitalism’s crisis and the lack of resources coming from the Conservative government as part of its programme of austerity.
But the government’s own figures from 2013 show that health tourism only takes up 0.3% of the overall NHS budget. And as the hostile environment continues, the human cost will be far higher, with more and more people refusing to seek out urgent medical care.
The American-style healthcare system we are moving towards is barbaric – it does nothing to shore up finances and only exists to exploit the most vulnerable, with debts piling up and insurance companies scamming people into destitution.
All this has culminated in a nightmarish scenario, exemplified by one recent devastating case. A migrant woman, using a pseudonym Beatrice, was charged £6,000 to give birth. Moreover, there were complications during the birth, which pushed the costs higher.
Not only have vile debt collectors hounded Beatrice, but to put icing on the cake, a dystopian and threatening letter was sent to her four-month-old baby. In this letter it was claimed that Beatrice – the baby’s main and only caregiver – was soon to be detained for the crime of bringing life into the world.
Symbiotically linked, this crippling healthcare debt and harassment from the state can be boiled down to the defence of capitalism’s requirements over human needs, regardless of the consequences.
Beyond this, even more ills of society are part of this mess. Beatrice had fled an abusive relationship three weeks prior. She was being supported by local churches. Meanwhile, her asylum status has yet to be granted, leaving her impoverished since she cannot legally work and doesn’t have recourse to welfare.
This is the disastrous reality that many asylum seekers find themselves in – far removed from the racist picture painted by the Tories, who accuse people from far off lands of being given money and housing for nothing.
What price safe motherhood?, a 2018 report from Maternity Action, goes into great detail to show how far from the truth the pernicious lie about health tourism actually is. The majority of undocumented women are fleeing persecution, rape, domestic violence, and domestic servitude – amongst many other things.
Charging such extortionate rates (as high as £7,000 for a birth and £1,800 for an abortion) only puts these women back in an even more precarious position, forcing them into sex work or abusive relationships in order to escape poverty.
Most incredibly, this draconian policy does not even make sense by its own logic of cost effectiveness. The women affected cannot pay, and the cost of chasing after debts ends up being higher than the money recuperated.
This sorry state of affairs is completely immoral – a damning indictment of how capitalism can no longer sustain itself. We need a return to the principles of genuinely universal healthcare, with huge changes to how we treat the most vulnerable in society.
A Labour government must bring an end to this hostile environment for migrants and the poor. This means pledging to reverse all the privatisations, outsourcing, and cuts to the NHS, nationalising the banks and Big Pharma in order to provide the resources that our healthcare system so desperately needs.