Ukrainians living in the UK are at risk of becoming homeless without more support
When the conflict in Ukraine escalated last year, the British public opened their homes to people who had to flee their country in search of safety.
More than 184,000 men, women and children have found refuge in the United Kingdom through the Homes for Ukraine scheme and less well-known Family Visa scheme. This is something we should all be immensely proud of.
But for many Ukrainians who have made it to safety in the UK the struggle is far from over. Earlier this year, research from the British Red Cross highlighted thousands of Ukrainians have either been made homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
As the problem persists six months on from this warning, it’s clear the government needs to put more support in place for Ukrainians and their hosts. Immediate help accessing stable housing is urgently needed, as well as a long-term plan for the future.
Securing suitable, long-term, affordable accommodation must be a priority, alongside employment
The latest data from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities shows that between February 2022 and July 2023, at least 7,300 Ukrainian households have been at risk of or have experienced homelessness in England. More than half (4,740) of them are families with children. Worryingly, this isn’t even the full picture. Not all local authorities submit this data, and it is not routinely published in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so the real figure is likely to be far higher.
I know from my own local authority, Sheffield City Council, that around 40 Ukrainian households, half of them with children, have been at risk of or have experienced homelessness since their arrival in the UK.
The Ukraine visa schemes should be celebrated for allowing Ukrainians to safely reach the UK. They are an excellent example of how safe routes for those fleeing conflict and persecution could be expanded to prevent dangerous journeys and save lives.
However, as I have seen in my own constituency, the cost of living is resulting in hardship and challenging circumstances for many people – hosts and Ukrainians. I hear every day from people who are struggling to afford to give their children a hot meal or even keep the lights on at home. For Ukrainians who have fled to the UK, these difficulties are compounded by shortfalls in financial support across the visa schemes and challenges in finding homes to rent due to meeting the up-front costs required and having temporary status.
A recent survey by the ONS found that more than half of Ukrainian adults (53 per cent) experienced difficulties accessing private rented accommodation in the UK. When a hosting placement ends, many people have no option but to ask the council for help with homelessness. However, Ukrainians are often ineligible for certain support, like the rent deposits and guarantees provided by councils to long-term residents, because they have not been in the local area long enough and only have three years leave to remain.
The government has taken some steps to address the risk of homelessness and help Ukrainians to live independently, including funding for homelessness prevention. While this is very welcome, the support provided is a drop in the ocean. Further action on homelessness and the provision of safe, secure and affordable accommodation is still much needed.
It’s not only Ukrainians who are struggling to find safe and secure housing, but many other refugees too. The British Red Cross has warned Afghans are at risk of homelessness this summer, as the deadline for them to move out of hotels looms.
Providing stable housing to people who have fled conflict is an essential part of supporting their inclusion in the community and enabling them to rebuild their lives. There are three steps we can take.
Firstly, we need to offer greater support to hosts to address the cost of living and incentivise continued hosting on the Ukraine visa schemes. For instance, by increasing the monthly 'thank you' payment for Homes for Ukraine hosts instead of waiting until after people have been in the UK for 12 months and extending these payments to hosts on the Family Visa Scheme.
Secondly, national and local government must implement a coordinated approach across the UK to ensure all refugees at risk of homelessness can consistently access rent deposits and guarantor schemes to secure housing in the private rental market.
Finally, the government should strengthen the system for the future by consulting on and publishing a national strategy for integration. Securing suitable, long-term, affordable accommodation must be a priority, alongside employment. Critical to the success of this strategy will also be the promotion of more equal support for all refugees and people seeking asylum, so that everyone receives the support they need. This should also make things simpler for local authorities and charities in responding.
By swiftly implementing these solutions, we can avert a homelessness crisis, plan for the future, and ensure that those who turned to the UK in search of safety can rebuild their lives here.
Olivia Blake, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam
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