LIVE BLOG Election Watch 2024

By Adis Sehic - 10 June 2024

On 22 May 2024, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the UK general election will take place on 4 July 2024. 

To help ensure the debate around protecting migrants and vulnerable workers’ rights is well-informed, we’ve launched Election Watch, where we’ll be monitoring and summarising party communications and policy announcements on these topics.

To get involved, send a policy you think requires analysis to:

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10 June 2024: Conservatives pledge to recruit 8,000 additional police officers by increasing visa fees

The Conservatives have pledged to recruit 8,000 new police officers over the next three years if they win the General Election. The policy will be in part paid for by increasing all visa fees by 25% and by raising the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) paid by students from £776 to £1,035 a year.

This is not the first time that visa fees have been increased to fund specific government policies. Last year, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the government was planning to partly fund a public sector pay rise for doctors and teachers by increasing the IHS from £624 to £1,035 a year for work visas, increasing visa fees for all work and visit visas by 15% and increasing fees for other applications and charges by at least 20%.

This policy change would put even more financial pressure on incoming migrant workers. Commentators have frequently noted that the UK is one of the most expensive countries in the world for workers to migrate to. Moreover, payment of the IHS amounts to double taxation for migrant workers, who are already subject to income tax and national insurance deductions like other workers. It is also not clear if the pledge will work as intended - if an increase in fees reduces inflows of workers, then the extent to which this will pay for new police officers is questionable.


7 June 2024: Liberal Democrats pledge to double maternity pay and additional parental leave for fathers

The Liberal Democrats have pledged to increase Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) by almost doubling the amount mothers get after the first six weeks from £184.03 to £350. Paternity pay would also rise and an additional month would be added to encourage new fathers to take up parental leave. The cost of the pledge would be met by ‘clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion’.

While such an increase would be widely welcomed by mothers and campaigners alike, this does nothing for those who fall through the cracks of the current SMP system. We’ve previously discussed how the current SMP rules have a discriminatory effect on low-paid, pregnant women who are sick due to pregnancy-related issues in the ‘relevant period’ before birth. In these circumstances, pregnant women essentially miss out on SMP because their period of pregnancy-related illness reduces their average earnings in the qualifying period before birth.

Though mothers in this situation can still claim Maternity Allowance, this means they don’t get 90% of their salary paid in the first six weeks, instead getting the statutory rate of £184.03. Moreover, as Maternity Action has previously noted, Maternity Allowance is treated as ‘unearned income’ by the DWP, so is deducted from any Universal Credit awards that mothers may be reliant on.

This is in contrast to SMP, which is treated as earnings and is largely disregarded from Universal Credit awards. This means that some women are left thousands of pounds worse off over the course of a nine-month period of maternity leave.


4 June 2024: Labour pledges to investigate treatment of migrant workers in the care sector

Following an investigation by the Guardian that revealed dozens of cases of alleged exploitation, the shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has pledged to investigate the exploitation of migrant care workers, to be led by a new enforcement body that Labour plans to introduce to oversee employment rights. The Liberal Democrats also backed a call for an investigation, while the Conservatives did not respond to a request to comment about holding an investigation.

Our frontline team has dealt with a growing number of appalling cases of workers in the adult social care sector experiencing exploitation and scams. Though an investigation is timely, it is worth noting that social care is already a priority for investigation by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), with the enforcement body noting long working hours, issues with pay, inflated fees and being tied into a certificate of sponsorship all as factors driving vulnerability and exploitation. Until more details about Labour’s proposed new enforcement body are released, it is hard to speculate on the efficacy its investigations could have. 


4 June 2024: Conservatives announce plans for caps on migrant visas

Rishi Sunak announces that the number of visas available to migrants would be reduced each year under a new Conservative government, including a pledge for MPs to be able to vote on annual government plans to reduce numbers, based on recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). The cap would apply to work and family visas but would exempt temporary work routes such as the Seasonal Worker Scheme.

This is not the first time a cap has been proposed. The Migration Advisory Committee has previously recommended that a migration cap on skilled workers should be dropped. In its 2018 report, the MAC said “[The cap] creates uncertainty among employers and it makes little sense for a migrant to be perceived as of value one day and not the next which is what inevitably happens when the cap binds.”


4 June 2024: Reform pledges to reduce net migration figures to zero

Reform announces that the UK should aim to reduce net migration to zero, but that it would still allow skilled workers to enter the UK. It is hard to see how any government could guarantee a fall in net migration to zero without also introducing rules governing those leaving the UK, given that the calculation for net migration figures hinges on this.


4 June 2024: Liberal Democrats announce pledges in relation to social care

The Liberal Democrats announce that they would introduce free personal care to older or disabled people at home if they were in government. They also pledge to tackle labour shortages in care by introducing a carer’s minimum wage at £2 above the standard minimum wage rates, and creating a Royal College of Care Workers.

In 2023, the chair of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) Professor Brian Bell noted that exploitation in social care was as a result of policy, namely poor wages. Separately, UNISON has also pointed to other factors including underfunding of the social care sector and severe staff shortages as driving exploitation in social care.


1 June 2024: Sir Keir Starmer announces a pledge to bring net migration numbers down

Alongside this pledge, Starmer announces that employers who break employment law will be banned from hiring migrant workers. Under Labour, training will also be linked to immigration, so sectors applying for work visas must first train British nationals to do the relevant work.

From a frontline perspective, much of the exploitation that migrant workers face is already against key employment legislation and, importantly, Home Office guidance for sponsors. This means that punishments should already be in place and applied to those rogue sponsors that break the rules.

For the announcement on exploitation to be truly effective, more departmental resources need to be directed at actually taking preventative action against rogue sponsors, also noting the complications that this can cause for workers (e.g. revocation of sponsorship) and introducing adequate safeguards to mitigate against these.


30 May 2024: The Reform Party announces 'migrant tax policy'

The Reform Party promises that, should they be elected, they would introduce a ‘migrant tax’ that would force employers to pay a higher rate of National Insurance on migrant workers. This would require most employers to pay an NI rate of 20% for every foreign worker employed, compared with 13.8% for British employees. Foreign health and care workers would be exempt from the tax to protect the NHS, as well as small businesses.

It is worth noting that most registered sponsors already pay a significant level of fees for every migrant worker employed as a result of the Immigration Skills Charge. Many also have to fork out additional resources to engage with and manage their sponsor licence in keeping with Home Office rules. There is a possibility that some rogue employers may simply use this additional financial burden as more fuel to make other deductions from workers’ salaries, in a similar way that some care workers have been reported as having to repay the costs of certain recruitment activities to their sponsor, despite this being against government guidance.


29 May 2024: Labour's Wes Streeting announces Labour would not reverse the care worker dependants ban 

The Shadow Health Minister says Labour has no plans to change rules stopping care workers from bringing family with them to the UK. He also notes that it is ‘immoral and unethical’ to recruit from countries with severe shortages of health workers - those that come under the World Health Organisation’s red list - and says that Labour would not continue this practice.

As we have previously pointed out, the ban on dependants is problematic because it removes main applicants’ access to a 2nd income and financial stability. In a low-paid sector like care, this means that workers are more likely to acquiesce to exploitative work conditions, as they have little option but to continue earning (especially for those that are encumbered with previous debts).


29 May 2024: Labour announces plans to scrap lower earnings threshold for statutory sick pay

The Labour Party announces that it would scrap the lower earnings threshold for statutory sick pay and make workers eligible from the first day of falling ill.

This will be a welcome announcement for many, particularly for women, who have previously been shown to be twice as likely than men to miss out on statutory sick pay due to the current earning limit of £123 a week.


28 May 2024: Reform Party pledges a freeze on 'non-essential immigration'

A list of key pledges from the Reform Party is released from i news. Among other things, this includes a freeze on ‘non-essential immigration’, restricting dependants on student visas and bigger penalties for companies employing illegal workers.

It is difficult to see how the UK would practically enforce a ‘freeze’ on ‘non-essential’ immigration. The pledge suggests that there would be exceptions for key professions such as doctors, nurses and successful business people, but given that a number of sectors are experiencing labour shortages, there are likely to be serious debates about what sectors/roles would be able to recruit migrant workers moving forward. Separately, it remains to be seen whether the Reform Party would also increase penalties for labour market offences outside of illegal working which are currently set at comparatively lower rate.


27 May 2024: Plaid Cymru renews calls to rejoin the European Single Market and Customs Union

This would almost certainly require the UK as a whole to sign up to foundational EU rules concerning the free movement of people, goods and services. For immigration specifically, it is likely that this would fundamentally shift the system away from sponsorship and back to a model based on free movement, or some other deal based on reciprocal movement involving EU member states.


24 May 2024: Labour releases its Plan to Make Work Pay

Make Work Pay builds on the previously published New Deal for Working People and includes a number of important pledges around working conditions. This includes clamping down on migrant exploitation through the introduction of a new Single Enforcement Body, while fair pay agreements for the social care sector and a ban on exploitative zero-hour contracts are also mentioned.

Much of this policy proposal/ plan repeats earlier pledges made in the New Deal, however it has clarified some previous commitments around a ban on zero-hour contracts and day one employment rights. Unlike the New Deal document, the Make Work Pay publication explicitly recognises the need to tackle migrant exploitation and to prevent unscrupulous employers from acting in an abusive way.

An important disclaimer. Work Rights Centre is a registered charity dedicated to supporting migrant workers and disadvantaged British nationals to access employment justice and improve their social mobility. We are independent - this means we do not support or endorse any political party or candidate. We’re launching Election Watch to ensure that the debate is well-informed, and that the next government understands the importance of protecting migrants and vulnerable workers’ rights. Any communications that we publish as part of Election Watch are informative only - they are not intended as an endorsement or otherwise of any specific political party, candidate or agenda.

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