Immigrants at risk of illhealth and homelessness, say Catholics

Healthcare and housing will be extremely lacking for vulnerable people if a new immigration bill passes Parliament, according to Catholics in England and Wales.

The bill in question, having its reading phase in the House of Commons today, will require landlords to check a tenant's immigration status and will limit immigrants access to the NHS.

Currently, A&E and GP surgery treatments provided by the NHS are free for everyone, from anywhere, no matter how long a person has been in the country.

However, hospital treatments, such as MRIs, X-Rays, and any type of surgery needing an operating room, require payment from anyone who has not lived in the UK for more than 12 months.

This new system will cut off immigrants' access further, barring them from the previously free-for-everyone portions of the NHS, leaving them with a bill of up to £100 for a consultation, not to mention the cost of their treatment.

The Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN), the social action arm of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has said that the proposed changes will most likely cause a spike in homelessness among those who are already vulnerable.

Bishop Patrick Lynch, Auxiliary Bishop of Southwark and Chair of the Office of Migration Policy, said: "We have grave fears that these proposals will deter vulnerable individuals from accessing vital healthcare services.

"We are especially concerned that the prospect of charging, may mean that pregnant women fail to seek medical assistance throughout their pregnancy and attempt to cope alone, potentially risking the health of both mother and child.

"It is also deeply worrying that children of migrants have not been exempted from these plans."

Bishop Lynch suggested one consequence of the bill could be to deny victims of human trafficking, female genital mutilation, and domestic abuse medical treatment because of misidentification, delays in identification or "because they feel discouraged to seek assistance".

"Victims of these horrific abuses are often reluctant to seek help in the first place and it is therefore essential that robust safeguards are in place," he said.

In previous statements, Bishop Lynch said that these proposals "could lead some migrant families into destitution".

CSAN's Chief Executive, Helen O'Brien echoed these statements, saying "vulnerable individuals are not put at risk of harm as a result of their legal status".

"We fear that the requirement for landlords to conduct checks on a potential tenant's immigration status may discourage owners from renting to migrants and increase homelessness levels," she said. 

"We are also keen to ensure that strong protections are in place for children of migrants, pregnant women and victims of trafficking and domestic abuse needing to access essential healthcare services."

CSAN's Public Affairs Officer, Liam Allmark added that requiring landlords, banks and doctors to check identity documents could "result in discrimination and could lead to minority groups struggling to access healthcare and find housing".

"We are very concerned that these proposals run the risk of causing obstruction and inconvenience to British citizens as well risking individuals' basic wellbeing," he said. 

According to the Daily Mail, senior doctors have said that the plans would cause "confusion" for staff and patients, and that the Government has not properly explained how it plans to collect payment for medical bills.

Dr Mark Porter, of the British Medical Association, warned that the fees would create "unintended drawbacks" and "confusion" for patients and staff.

He added: "There remains a real risk that some migrants and short-term visitors who desperately need care could be discouraged from approaching the NHS if they cannot pay the proposed charges."

After the report stage, the bill still has one more reading in the House of Commons, before moving to the House of Lords.