50,000 Ukrainian refugees in the UK could become homeless next year
These estimates come as the UK's financial support for the Ukrainian military will also run low by the end of the year, as reported by The Times, citing a source in the UK Defense Ministry.
A “shocking” 50,000 Ukrainian refugees in the UK could be made homeless next year, the UK government has been warned, but ministers are refusing to offer a fresh package of support to offset the impending crisis.
As the cost of living crisis bites and with no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, fears are mounting that the government’s Homes for Ukraine scheme will unravel next month when refugees’ initial six-month placements with hosts end without alternative accommodation in place.
Although Boris Johnson has framed the UK’s response to Russia’s operation as a principled triumph, a number of organizations warn that a key response of his government to the conflict’s refugee crisis could prompt a “disastrous rise in homelessness."
A total of 83,900 refugees have arrived under the Homes for Ukraine scheme since it began in March. Refugees were matched with sponsors who agreed to house them for six months and were paid £350 a month.
Not all matches have been successful. Government data reveal that since the war began in February, 1,335 Ukrainian households – including 945 families with children – have registered as homeless.
That figure is set to soar from next month. Analysis by children’s charity Barnardo’s, Labour and the Liberal Democrats say that, based on feedback from refugee sponsors, between 15,000 and 21,000 Ukrainians could be homeless by the winter, rising to more than 50,000 by the middle of next year.
Read more: Refugees, exhausted by 'hunger and homelessness', in UK to return to Ukraine
One group, Refugees at Home, said the figure could be even higher because of a combination of pressures, including energy bills, soaring inflation, and climbing interest rates.
Shadow Leveling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy said, “These shocking numbers reveal the scale of the crisis about to hit refugee families who came to Britain under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.”
When Leveling Up secretary Michael Gove unveiled the scheme in March, Nandy asked in parliament what plans were in place for when sponsorships broke down, but she did not receive an answer. When the government was asked by The Observer on Saturday for the projected rates of homelessness among Ukrainian refugees, it declined to offer a figure.
James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, which represents more than 330 councils in England, warned that even if Ukrainians could find a new host in the event the original sponsorship did not work out, grave issues lay ahead. “There is a significant risk that – even if rematching is available – many Ukrainian families may need to present as homeless because of a lack of sponsors or other options,” he said.
Read more: UK government abandons Ukrainian refugees, leaves hundreds homeless
Last week, refugees minister Lord Harrington said monthly payments to UK hosts should double after six months to £700 a month to offset the cost of living concerns. But Harrington has no authority to implement the rise, and so far the Treasury has refused. The government is now asking existing hosts to allow Ukrainians to stay for longer than six months and is appealing for new sponsors.
For many, the six-month period will expire in mid-September, with a significant proportion of hosts saying that without extra government help, they will have to pull out. Several are warning that attracting new hosts will be considerably harder.
Stanislav Beneš of charity Opora, which has helped about 8,000 Ukrainians into the UK, said, “The initial wave of sponsors included people who did not quite understand the implications and consequences of this sort of responsibility.”
Read more: Johnson: Ukrainians who come to UK illegally could be sent to Rwanda
Although the government said on Saturday that it was “reviewing” the level of support for the scheme, no fresh or improved help is yet on offer.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said, “It’s vital that the government steps forward to offer more support. Ukrainian families have come to our country seeking help and stability and the government needs to act now to ensure that hosts have the financial assistance and support in place to enable them to continue, and prevent a disastrous rise in homelessness.”
Kitty Hamilton of Vigil for Visas said increased support should be offered for three years – the length of visas given to Ukrainian refugees.
“The government’s commitment was for three years, not six months, so there needs to be a longer-term gameplan that doesn’t squander the goodwill of so many. The scheme was offered for an initial six months – the implication was to give the government a chance to make more substantial plans and for the invasion to end. But nothing has happened.”
Read more: Ukrainian workers subject to 'modern slavery' in UK
Hamilton belongs to a group of sponsors in Crouch End, London, which manages 400 hosts and is so concerned at the number who might walk away from the scheme after six months that it is meeting with its local MP this week to discuss the issue.
Nandy added, “British households across the country have stepped up, while their government has gone into hiding. No more delays, no more sticking plasters – we need a proper plan to house and support refugees.”
Robina Qureshi, chief executive of Positive Action in Housing, said she was worried about “impending homelessness on a mass scale” when the first six-month period ends.
A government spokesperson said, “Councils have a duty to ensure families are not left without a roof over their head. We’ve provided them with £10,500 per person to cover costs, with access to a rematching service to find a new sponsor in the rare case of a sponsorship breakdown. We have already acted to make sure the £350 thank-you payments are exempt from tax, and continue to monitor and review the support provided.”
They added that they were working closely with councils to ensure Ukrainians have access to suitable housing if they decide to move on.
Read more: Palestine and Ukraine: Colossal difference in treatment and narrative