Oxford City Council is supporting a campaign to remove bureaucratic barriers that prevent people in the UK from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
The government has stated that everyone living in the UK will be able to access the vaccine, however failure to provide the right documentation as well as fear of accessing healthcare services are preventing people from receiving the vaccine. Migrant communities, people experiencing or at risk of homelessness and Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are among those who are being disproportionately impacted in the vaccine rollout.
The City Council has added its name to a statement written by a coalition of 140 organisations urging the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that the vaccine is accessible to everyone. Migrant rights’ charities, health institutions, trade unions, faith groups and local authorities are all signatories of the statement initiated by the Patients Not Passports campaign. They call on ministers to take action to end the “Hostile Environment” and allow everyone living in the UK regardless of immigration status, ID or proof of address to receive the vaccine. Oxford City Council is one of two local councils to join the campaign with Haringey Council also pledging their support.
In order to receive the vaccine, people are required to show ID and must be registered with a GP. According to the UK government website, a person does not need to provide proof of address or immigration status when registering with a GP but can be refused registration under certain grounds. The Council is urging residents to register with a GP if they have not already done so.
Last week the government said that people living illegally in the UK would not be at risk of deportation as there would be no checks on immigration at vaccine centres. However, the coalition states that this does not go far enough to ensure that people are not left unvaccinated. In a press release on the Oxford City Council website, Councillor Dr Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini said “This welcome step from the government makes it clear that the Hostile Environment is a public health failure.”
Steve Valdez-Symonds from Amnesty UK told the BBC that many undocumented immigrants are “too afraid” to access healthcare services. He also added that “it has been the message, very clearly, from the government that access to health care is something that leads to information being passed about them to the immigration authorities”.
Councillor Louise Upton said that Oxford City Council “believe it is in the interests of everyone that UK residents are able to access health care regardless of their migration status or homelessness. It’s not just the right thing for those individuals, these are people who live and work in our city and we know them as part of our communities and our businesses. Protecting their health is part of protecting all of us. We oppose any discrimination in government policy or the way it is delivered that denies them access to healthcare.”
The Oxford charity Asylum Welcome also signed the call for action and said they were “proud” that Oxford City Council had joined the campaign. They added that “temporary offers of safety are not enough to undo the decades of harm caused by policies that have embedded immigration controls into public services.”
Oxford GP Dr Kathryn Brown stated: “This is our chance to make lasting change to promote better access to healthcare for all and seek to improve the health gap that exists in our country not just for the vaccination programme but for the longer term”.