Homes For Ukraine scheme is falling apart for lack of certainty
"Naivety and a hands-off approach will only breed greater chaos," says Paula Barker
As always in times of crisis, the British people, charities and local authorities have been incredible in stepping up to assist those who are fleeing the ravages of war in Ukraine. However, many host families are now facing the added pressure of the rising cost of living and we are seeing placements break down across the country.
The Government commitment to Ukrainian families was for a 3-year period but with only a minimum 6-month period being mandated by the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. It is clear that they need to do far more than asking hosts to allow families to stay longer or appealing for new hosts at the eleventh hour. Such naivety and a hands-off approach on the part of Government will only breed greater chaos in the coming weeks and months.
Back in March, Lisa Nandy the Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities asked the Secretary of State if he would put a safety net in place in case of placement break downs. The opposition probed further with the Department confirming that families left homeless in that situation would not be able to claim their housing costs under universal credit. Sadly, no real answers were forthcoming in the Spring.
Too much time has passed, and the Government must now act. We need a robust plan to ensure councils and hosts have the appropriate assistance and support they need to avert a huge homeless crisis. This Government is defined by acting only at the point when it is too late rather than being pro-active and addressing problems as they emerge.
Their refusal to give certainty to local authorities, host families and refugees is not only profoundly wrong, but it damages us on the international stage. What does it say about Britain after welcoming the most vulnerable during their time of need to see many of them become homeless within a year? We are better than this.
Over 100,000 Ukrainians have sought sanctuary in Britain through this scheme since the start of Putin’s illegal invasion. In cases of relationship breakdown between host and refugee, they will now be eligible to claim housing allowance through Universal Credit. However, as the Government benches know all too well, local housing allowance in many parts of the country does not cover the cost of private sector rents.
Cash-strapped local authorities will no doubt try and innovate, filling the void where they can but that will only have limited success due to the fresh round of uncertainty over their increased costs and spending commitments going into the new year. Indeed, councils like Bristol are finding ways to give guarantees to landlords who take in Ukrainians. Still, many local councils are predicting more bad news when the Local Government finance settlement is announced just before Christmas.
As the frontline of service provision, Councils should not be waiting until the festive period to understand whether they can provide support when the rates of Ukrainians declaring themselves homeless is on the increase as I write this. The latest figures show that 2,175 households have already presented as homeless.
The opposition would argue that this is already a crisis and the Government have been asleep at the wheel. If the returning Secretary of State does not make this an urgent priority, the problem will soon reach gargantuan proportions and from such a position, the Government will struggle to regain control. For the human beings at the heart of this story, the Department must urgently get a grip.
Paula Barker, Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree and shadow minister for homelessness and rough sleeping
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