Difficult decisions lie ahead over the Ukrainian refugee scheme
When I last spoke to The House about the Homes for Ukraine scheme, I marked success in terms of bringing down visa processing times from several weeks to a few days. Six months on from the start of the Russian invasion, we can now mark success as 120,000 Ukrainians living in safety in the United Kingdom – welcoming and supporting a population bigger than the average parliamentary constituency.
This scheme is unprecedented both in scale and design. Beyond the immediate task of bringing people to safety, we have designed a programme that really works; a new app-based system has successfully reduced waiting times for applicants and we have extended the scheme to allow under-18s to travel with extended family members. Crucially, we have a robust plan for what happens when the initial six-month placement hosts and guests sign up for ends.
We have seen the devastating consequences of Afghans living in hotels for months… I believe the legacy of this scheme will mean it will never happen again
Figures show that 75 per cent of hosts want to continue their arrangements beyond the six-month minimum. There are plans for more practical and financial support for those who do, and to increase opportunities for refugees who can’t stay longer to rematch with new hosts. Increasing numbers of Ukrainians are looking to live independently but face challenges in accessing private rental accommodation. Steps are underway to remove these barriers from local authorities acting as guarantors to increasing available stock, to the benefit of everyone and every region with limited access to affordable housing.
Being in employment is a crucial part of being able to build a successful and independent life in the UK. I am encouraged by recent statistics that show 42 per cent of Ukrainian refugee adults are in work, particularly amongst a cohort with such high numbers of women with childcare responsibilities. But more is being done to help people into work, including improving access to English lessons and recognising professional qualifications, particularly in sectors where the UK has shortages.
This is why I felt it was the right time for me to step away from this job. Even in starting out, I hoped that in my time I would be able to develop the processes and policies that would make my role unnecessary.
The need to provide refuge is not new, nor will it end when the war in Ukraine does. We have seen the devastating and unsustainable consequences of Afghans living in hotels for months on end. But I believe that the legacy of this scheme will mean it will never happen again.
I am not naïve to, nor complacent about, the challenges that lie ahead. This war has continued longer than anybody thought. At home we will face cost of living pressures and energy challenges not experienced in generations. No country in Europe is immune to these gravities. To meet them will require difficult decisions and finely considered balances of stretched resources, and I truly believe the exceptional people I’ve worked with in the Ukraine Taskforce will deliver on these.
Over the last six months it has been a real pleasure to meet so many refugees across the country and the communities that support them. This has been a real collaborative effort, bringing together every part and level of government and every part of society. The scheme has been shaped by the experiences of refugees and their hosts, as well as advice and criticism from parliamentary colleagues, working together to build a programme that works.
I have every confidence that this sense of community and collegiate working will mean that we can collectively, successfully meet the challenges ahead and continue our commitment to the people of Ukraine in their hour of need – as well as future refugees, whatever country or circumstance they are fleeing from.
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