These have been tough times for all of us. And like many key workers – I’m a coordinator at an NHS cancer care clinic – I’ve appreciated the shows of support each Thursday. But in reality, it feels like we’re key workers only when it suits the government’s narrative. We’re risking our lives on a daily basis, but the salary we get for it doesn’t match up – and because of that, many of us are denied the most basic right: the right to a family life.
As well as making sure people get the life-saving care they need, I’ve been working a second job throughout the pandemic. Meanwhile, I’m pregnant with my second child, and am bringing up my first alone. To say that it hasn’t been easy would be an understatement. The reason I’m in this situation is this: despite risking my life working for the NHS during the pandemic, rules put in place by my own government mean I don’t earn enough to have my husband here.
I’m British and have lived here all my life. My husband is from outside Europe (Nigeria, to be precise). Because of this, I need to be earning at least £18,600 a year for him to even be eligible to apply for a visa to come and join his family here. My job running the cancer care clinic doesn’t pay that, so I had to find another job – also a frontline role – to try and push my income over the line and get my husband here in time to witness the birth of his second child. In the meantime, I’m working two jobs and bringing up our child alone, during a global pandemic.
As a Black woman, I feel doubly punished. We know that, statistically, I’m more likely to get sick – and more likely to die if I do – from Covid-19. And one of the reasons I’m so at risk is that I’m working not just one but two frontline jobs during the pandemic, trying to earn enough to sponsor my husband’s visa and bring my family together. Like the virus, the Home Office’s income rule does not affect us all equally. In an unequal society, I am statistically less likely than a white counterpart to be earning enough to have my family together, because of the ethnicity pay gap (combined with the gender pay gap). The government knew when it brought in these rules that they would discriminate against people from some minorities – but it went ahead anyway. So that’s where I’m stuck at the moment.
Every day I think about what would happen to my 16-month-old son, and to my unborn child, if something happened to me.
The thought of anything happening to me terrifies me. Every day I think about what would happen to my 16-month-old son, and to my unborn child, if it did. I lost an aunt to Covid-19 last month, so the fear is very real. I love my job, and yet I can’t help but worry every day. I take public transport to get into work, and I’m working two frontline jobs where it’s difficult to properly socially distance. What if I’m the next person to go?
Our son is already having to grow up without his dad here, and these income rules are the only reason. He last saw his dad almost five months ago, and that was only for about two weeks. On Skype, when we have calls with his dad, our son doesn’t even seem to know who his dad is anymore. It’s heart-breaking for my husband, and for me.
Seeing my son grow up without his dad by his side makes me so angry. We’re told that family is a basic human right, but under the current system, it’s not one we all have equal access to. There’s no difference between me and the people who put these rules in place back in 2012 – so why do they have the right to enjoy a family life, and I don’t?
When I started out on this journey, I was living in a bubble. I knew I was affected, but I had no idea that tens of thousands of others were, too. We’re not asking for a miracle. All we want is to have our families together. To do that, the government just needs to get rid of this outdated rule. Trying to explain it to people is difficult, because it makes no sense to them. Me and my husband are married, but because I don’t earn enough, he’s not allowed to build a home here with us. Once he’s here, he’ll be working to support us – and he wouldn’t even be allowed to access benefits in any case, as a condition of his visa. I’m suffering because of rules that make no sense – all they do is harm families like mine. Who benefits?
I’m the first to admit how easy it is to become discouraged. It’s hard to feel like you have the power to overcome the whole government. But it has been done, and it can be done again. As long as we don’t give up, there’s strength in numbers – and we know there are huge numbers of people out there calling for change. We just need to be strong and take action. An Immigration Bill will be going through Parliament over the next few weeks, and MPs will have a chance either to scrap these unfair rules, or vote to extend them to the hundreds of thousands of British people with a partner from Europe. So there’s never been a more important time to stand up for our rights.
We could just give up, but we need to be strong – if not for us, then for the children growing up without one of their parents because of these rules. We need to believe that better days are ahead, for them at least.
Barbara is a NHS worker, writing under a pseudonym
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