Jakub Hejka interviews Polish migrants on the Immigration Health Surcharge
August 25, 2023
How the UK Cost of Living Crisis is affecting migrants
The 2023 cost of living crisis in the UK is affecting migrants due to the government’s discriminatory policies.
Since 2021, the economic situation in the UK has started to worsen, and this has affected many people, both citizens and non-citizens. However, while the government is providing some support to British citizens, migrants are being overlooked.
With a record-high Consumer Prices Index (CPI) when it reached 11.1% in the last quarter of 2022 to the current level of 7.9% Inflation has significantly impacted the lives of all people in the UK as the price of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 17.4%.
The latest data and trends about the cost of living. Explore changes in the cost of everyday items and how this is affecting people.
The prices of other necessities also increased, and 4 in 10 people have struggled to make rent or mortgage payments. Rental prices in the UK have risen by 5.1% over the past year, and – as a demographic almost three times more likely to rent than British citizens – migrants have been disproportionately affected by this hike.
The situation isn’t much better for those looking to buy property. The average house price in June this year was £288,000, up £5000 from the price in the same month last year.
Along with the rent hike, energy prices have skyrocketed, with an increase in gas and electricity prices by 36.2% and 17.3% respectively, over the past year. This is leaving renters in particular, with increasingly less disposable income.
Rishi Sunak’s government has responded to this crisis, in part, by promising some public sector workers a pay rise of at least 6%.
In a lot of cases, migrants are expected to foot the bill for this bout of government spending. For example, the increased pay for police officers will be funded in part by a hike in the cost of study and work visas. Likewise, a pay rise for junior doctors will be funded by an increase in the fee for foreigners to access NHS services.
Krzysztof Kryśko, a 26-year-old Polish migrant who works as a waiter in London, UK, spoke to Harbinger’s about his financial struggles. “The current situation is really difficult,” he said, adding how “the wage that I am getting is basically the same, even though the prices of food and rent skyrocketed.”
But Kryśko considers himself lucky compared to some of his friends, who have children; “Most of my friends have kids and had them recently,” he said, “so they are still quite young, and they can’t limit their expenses because they need to buy diapers, and they can’t work more because someone needs to stay with the kid.”
I spoke to 31-year-old Polish migrant Jacek Pycha, a business owner from London, about the UK government’s response to the cost of living crisis. “The increase in visa prices and NHS is especially painful for me and my family,” said Pycha, who has been living in the UK for nine years. “My wife still hasn’t found a job since she lost it during the Covid pandemic,” he added, “so now I need to cover all of our costs.”
According to Praxis, a charity that supports migrants and refugees, the price increase is unfair as UK migrants already pay one of the highest visa costs in Europe.
In response to the increased fee for accessing the NHS and around a 40% hike in the visa cost Josephine Whitaker-Yilmaz, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Praxis, said “there are likely to be individuals and families who have been saving for years already to afford their visa renewals, who will suddenly not have the money to cover the 67% rise in the Immigration Health Charge, for instance.”
Whitaker-Yilmaz added that we can expect to see people forced out of status by these unaffordable fees. “People will lose access to essential services,” she said, and would “find themselves vulnerable to the hostile environment.”
Whitaker-Yilmaz explained that once someone has been forced out of status, “the clock on the route goes back to zero.”
The increase in pay for public sector workers is clearly essential. There are around 5 million people employed in the UK public sector, and this group of people – like everyone – is affected by the current crisis and price increase. But there is a problem with how the government intends to fund this pay rise.
The government is placing the burden on another group of people harshly impacted by the same crisis; what’s more – one of the hardest-hit demographics.
Trade union UNISON said that the increase will “push more people into poverty” as migrants won’t be able to afford those costs. Not only that but, as many migrants will have trouble affording the costs, they might consider going back home or moving to a different country. The loss of migrant workers would damage the already struggling UK economy.
This is why the government should consider other ways of funding public sector pay rises.
For example, instead of taxing the people most affected by the crisis we could tax people the least affected. According to Tax Justice UK applying just a 2% tax on assets over £10 million would bring in around £22 billion.
This tax would affect only around 20,000 of the wealthiest British citizens, who are not affected that much by the price change as they have more than enough to cover their daily expenses.