Refugees who fled Putin’s bombs and bullets should not be left homeless
The Homes for Ukraine scheme needs fixing – and fast. A litany of failures that blighted the introduction of the scheme are set to be repeated, potentially leaving thousands of Ukrainians homeless.
This is not because of the British public. The launch of Homes for Ukraine in March was met with an outpouring of kindness. Hundreds of thousands of British families stood ready to throw open their homes to people fleeing Vladimir Putin. Everybody stepped up – except the government.
Ministers launched the scheme with great fanfare in TV studios but without any preparation.
It soon became clear that sponsors had to match themselves with a refugee, leading to an absurd situation where Ukrainian families fleeing bombs and bullets were trying to find internet cafes to advertise themselves on social media, while British hosts scoured those same sites looking for a match. Inevitably it led to vulnerable young women being targeted online. Who in their right mind would have dreamed up such a scheme?
Ministers launched the scheme with great fanfare in TV studios but without any preparation
Charities and councils were keen to help, but ministers didn’t pick up the phone. One council leader told me on the day it was announced that they were keen to help though they only had one spare secondary school place in the entire city. Calls to central government went unanswered.
Now, as the six-month period that hosts signed up for comes to an end, all of these problems are about to be repeated. According to the Office for National Statistics, a quarter of hosts don’t want to continue hosting beyond this period, and 23 per cent of this group cite the rising cost of living as the reason why.
Already this winter homelessness threatens to become a crisis. Evictions rose by more than 150 per cent in the last quarter alone. Unless ministers get a grip there will be an added wave of Ukrainian homelessness. So far, 1,565 Ukrainian households have presented as homeless, including more than 1,000 households with children. Without government action, this number will almost certainly grow.
The new Prime Minister has rightly praised the determination of all political parties and the British people to stand up to Putin. That cannot be consistent with standing aside while the people who have fled the bombs and bullets of his army are left without a home or find themselves sleeping rough on the streets of Britain.
Ministers were warned about this risk on the very day they launched the scheme. They have had six months to prepare for this moment, but so far there seems to be no plan.
Because of the many problems that have beset the scheme – not least an excessively bureaucratic visa system – the generosity shown by the British public was squandered. Around 200,000 British households signed up to be sponsors. But just 88,000 Ukrainian refugees have so far made it to Britain.
If families who are already in the United Kingdom are about to become homeless, ministers have a ready-made source of help and they should use it. After six months, there is no excuse for the chaotic, DIY matching process not to have been supplanted by a scheme coordinated by government.
As Ukrainian soldiers advance, forcing Putin’s army back towards the Russian border, the hope remains that refugees will have the option to return home. Until that time comes, we have a moral duty to protect and support them. In stepping up to do that in their thousands, British people showed the very best of our country. It should not be too much to ask that our government does the same.
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