Homes for Ukraine scheme risks falling at the final hurdle
Ukrainian refugees face significant challenges to find housing in the UK
The United Kingdom stands on the edge of a historic moment. Government and civil society together have welcomed and supported Ukrainian refugees with an innovative and cost-effective sponsorship scheme.
There is a bronze statue outside of Liverpool Street station depicting five Jewish children welcomed to the UK in 1939 via the Kindertransport. The evacuation of 10,000 children escaping the Nazis is rightly considered a great success worth commemorating. I have had the privilege of meeting some of those children and their descendants and discovering the incredible ways they are continuing to contribute to British culture and society.
Over the past eight months the UK has helped 144,600 Ukrainians to escape Russian aggression, with 104,100 living with ordinary people like my family. That is the equivalent of Kindertransport 10 times over. This time, instead of separating children from their parents at train stations, mothers, fathers and grandparents have been able to find safety together with their children.
This is the largest outpouring of home-based hospitality towards non-British citizens in our generation. Despite the scale and pace of the scheme, visas can now be turned around quickly and hosts can get information and payments efficiently. Community hubs are getting stronger and new arrivals are finding it easier to access support.
However, if we are to fulfil our promise to stand with the Ukrainian nation as it continues to face brutal Russian aggression, we must continue our ground-breaking welcome. We are at a critical moment in the Homes for Ukraine Scheme. Those who have sought sanctuary with us now need meaningful employment and suitable longer-term accommodation. In this way we can ensure that the scheme continues to be successful and is remembered as such.
Many Ukrainians in our country have left behind significant and well-paid jobs. The lady that lives with my family is a trained barrister, however due to a combination of language challenges and lack of expertise in British law, she is currently unable to practice here and is instead working in a shop so she can raise funds to retrain. Similarly, I have met IT managers, psychologists, programmers, teachers and more who are taking up entry level jobs as cleaners and carers. I believe that with the government’s support, more appropriate routes to work can be found to release potential and help rebuild lives.
Housing is the biggest and most challenging problem that may well determine whether the Homes for Ukraine scheme will be seen as a success or not. Although many hosts are willing to extend the original six-month arrangement, and many guests are happy to remain where they are, we face the possibility of losing the incredible goodwill that has been the hallmark of this scheme if no ongoing options are available. Investing in some of the innovative and creative worthwhile housing solutions at this point will protect families from being uprooted yet again and keep the good faith hosts and communities have built with government.
We stand at the precipice of either a historic moment of honour in our hospitality towards refugees or a moment of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by failing to see the initiative through to its next steps. We need visionary leadership to cut through the red tape that is preventing forward movement in this initiative. Civil society stands ready to help and the Great British public is already playing their part. If the government can make available the welcome, work and worthwhile housing the Ukrainians in our country need, we can make sure we don’t fall at this final hurdle.
Dr Krish Kandiah is the director of the Sanctuary Foundation
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