Nadia Whittome defends migrant workers in Immigration Bill speech

Speaking in Parliament on October 19, Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome criticised the government’s Immigration Bill. She called on MPs to “treat our neighbours born on a different soil in the way we would like to be treated ourselves,” and to back the Lords’ amendment demanding an inquiry into the impact that ending free movement would have on social care.

The Immigration Bill, which is back in the House of Commons for its third reading, seeks to end free movement with Europe. Earlier this year, the government announced plans for a “points-based” system to replace it, where only those European migrants who earn at least £25,600 would be allowed to move to the UK, unless they meet additional requirements such as working in a specified shortage occupation. In her speech, Nadia Whittome described these plans as “free movement for those who can afford it and a hostile environment for everyone else.”

Ms Whittome, who entered parliament last year as the UK’s youngest MP, also talked about her experiences working in a care home alongside migrant colleagues. Under the new rules, most care workers from the EU would be barred from working in the UK. Concerns have been raised about the impact this would have on the adult social care sector, where around 8% of workers come from EU countries.

Speaking about carers and other workers who would be classed as “low-skilled” and denied a visa, Ms Whittome said: “our key workers are not low-skilled, they are underpaid, and they should be rewarded with a payrise, not threatened with deportation.”

Earlier in the year, Ms Whittome returned to her previous job as a care worker to support colleagues at a retirement village complex. She has challenged the Government on the lack of PPE in care homes, and recently joined the campaign to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour.

The full wording of the speech is copied below:

Madam Deputy Speaker, it wasn’t so long ago that everyone in this House hailed our key workers as heroes, that we stood on our doorsteps and clapped for our carers. 

It’s care workers, cleaners, cooks and delivery drivers who keep this country running. But they are also the people this Bill wants to bar from entering the country.

One in five health and social care workers is born outside the UK. When I was a care worker, Madam Deputy Speaker, I worked alongside talented and dedicated carers from Zambia, Spain, Italy, and we worked long hours to look after elderly people.

Yet this government has the cheek to call them “low-skilled” and say they don’t belong here.

When I returned to work during the pandemic, I had to retrain. My day would look like: getting up at 5, making notes in handover, administering medication, dealing with someone who had a fall, hoisting someone almost twice my size, being alert to small changes that could indicate a more serious medical problem, trying my best in 15 minutes to brighten someone’s day and make them feel valued, knowing that I would probably be the only person they see that day, all whilst meticulously recording everything that happened on every call.

 Our key workers are not “low-skilled”, they are underpaid, and they should be rewarded with a pay rise, not threatened with deportation.

The purpose of this Bill is to close our borders with Europe. Those who make over £25,600 a year will be allowed in, and those who are paid less will be kept out. This is what a points-based system looks like: it’s free movement for those who can afford it, and it’s a hostile environment for everyone else.

This Bill won’t solve the problems my community is facing. It’s not foreigners taking away jobs, it’s this Government refusing to extend the furlough scheme. It’s not migrants running the NHS into the ground – they’re keeping it going. And if the Minister is so committed to increasing wages, then I urge him to listen to the Migration Advisory Committee and increase the wages of care workers to at least £10 an hour.

Whether you are a retired miner from Mansfield, a Deliveroo rider from Nottingham, or a Bulgarian mum cleaning this very building, we have more in common with each other than we ever will with those who divide us. We all want to protect our families, we all want to contribute to our communities. We all know what it’s like to have no power, and we all know that it’s the people on the front bench opposite who are making people powerless.

We have an enormous privilege in this place, as members of this House, but being paid £80k a year doesn’t make our lives worth any more than people being paid £8.72 an hour. We have a responsibility to vote for these amendments, and to treat people, to treat our neighbours, our friends, our co-workers, who were born on a different soil in the way that we would want to be treated ourselves and in the way that we would want our families to be treated.

Watch clips from the speech here and here.