On Tuesday, May 6, 5 and 6 a.m. across London, lights flick on and bleary-eyed activists made the journey from its four corners, to the centre. We met in a small park a few streets away from the Home Office, and in the 7 a.m. light, we began rehearsing, handing out placards, leaflets for distribution, and discussing safety if we are confronted by the authorities. At roughly 8:15 a.m., with all of us gathered and prepared, we made our march onwards to the Home Office.
Our action this time, is short and punchy; we have five dancers dressed as friendly doctors, do a dance to the beat of a drum. Suddenly the music gets more militaristic, more brutal and the once-friendly doctors strip to reveal that they are officers of the law, while those of us not dancing chant "Docs Not Cops!" and talk to members of the public and Home Office workers.
As members and allies of ACT UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) London, a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals, united in anger and committed to direct action to end the HIV pandemic, we are demonstrating in protest against the health clauses that are part of the new Immigration Bill. Recently Tory MPS's proposed that HIV positive Migrants should be banned from entering the UK. The clauses call for a new migrant surcharge (of approximately £150-200 annually) for NHS services, which all people applying for visas will have to pay. Also, free NHS access will now be available only to permanent residents (i.e. people who've been in the UK five years or longer). For the first time in the 65 year history of the NHS, charges will be imposed for primary and emergency care, and, on meeting patients, NHS staff will be required to make judgements about who qualifies for treatment.
Our dance illustrates one of our central contentions with this Bill, that doctors, sworn to help those in medical need, by the imposition of this bill, will be turned into Border Cops, and people needing care will receive it, either at unprecedented financial cost, or very possibly at the cost of their freedom. More likely than not, many people affected by this Bill in need of care will avoid treatment. This Bill further feeds into the current, broader process of erosion of a fundamental principle of the NHS, that it is free and universally accessible, as established soon after the WWII, in recognition that we as a society have the capacity to be better, helping those in need, regardless of cost.
The misrepresentation of this issue as economic at base is foolhardy. Though the thinking of our government may frequently be racist in execution, pathology is rarely so discriminating. The more ailments go untreated the greater cost they will end up incurring. One, for conditions that are potentially infectious (for example, HIV), it is generally the case that the longer people go untreated, the more likely it will be that others will become infected. The inadvertent targeting by this Bill's of people considered alien necessarily puts the rest of the populous at greater risk of infection. The more infectious the conditions themselves become leads to further disenfranchisement and makes people less inclined to seek treatment, short-circuiting any supposed savings it might make. Two, that someone who may avoid medical attention out of fear of persecution or out of poverty. This provokes the situation to exacerbate until their condition is far more severe, not only resulting in human suffering, something we ought to be actively militating against in all instances, but, within the logic of today's cost-benefit analysis culture, a far more costly situation to deal with.
This bill is xenophobic in nature, playing up to insular views of nationhood. It preys on the mis-held belief that immigration has anything to do with our financial woes or existential doubts. It upholds the belief that there is a culture of "health tourism," in which people come to this country just to suck funds out of it, paid for by that mythical, eternally-hard-done-by beast, the Hard-working (white? Nuclear? Heterosexual? Ancestrally British?) Family.
We know these perceptions of immigration and the use of healthcare to be false in the extreme.
It is of paramount importance that we must oppose its implementation in all ways possible. We as ACT UP London will be planning on ratcheting up the pressure, and we need all the allies we can get.