Government opens new scheme to welcome Ukrainian refugees to the UK

Government opens new scheme to welcome Ukrainian refugees to the UK

From today, residents around the country can register to offer a room or home to refugees from Putin’s war in Ukraine. Residents (sponsors) will have to sign up for six months and  will receive a standard payment of £350 a month for each household taking in refugees. Local councils will receive £10,000 for each refugee that comes to their area along with additional payments to support school-age children.

You can register your interest at homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk from today. You might want to wait until the load on the website has reduced. Online application forms are expected to be available from Friday. Organisations can also express an interest at the same web address.

The difficulty many people will face with this scheme is that sponsors will need to identify refugees they can sponsor to come to the UK. Many people wanting to offer accommodation will not know any Ukrainians. We can expect existing and new social media, charity and volunteer networks to step up in the next few days to match refugees with sponsors. Initially, the government will prioritise refugees with connections in the UK.

If I was asked to describe the attitude of government ministers to the current crisis, I’d say that they seem to think the Ukraine refugees are gate-crashing a party. If you don’t have tickets (permits) you are thrown out by the Home Office bouncers. To get tickets you need to know someone in the party. And that is hard when you are fleeing annihilation of your country, of your friends and family, and possibly of yourself.

The UK is not making it easy for refugees. It hasn’t for decades. The Syrian resettlement scheme a few years ago showed that the process can be very bureaucratic. Lessons have been learnt from that scheme by councils, charities and volunteers. Possibly also by government but Whitehall seemed ill equipped to handle the Afghan refugees that fled after American forces withdrew from the country. Many of the Afghans that arrived here ended up in hotels, which is not only expensive but does nothing to integrate refugees with communities.

The proposals announced over the weekend to the media and to the Commons this afternoon look to be an improvement on previous schemes but are not ideal. The main difficulty will be identifying names individuals to support. Social media may help. The thinking in Whitehall is that charities or humanitarian groups will become brokers, drawing up lists of Ukrainians and then asking individuals to house them.

Ukrainians in possession of their passports will be able to apply online, avoiding crowded visa application centres. But it will be a lengthy application – it was always thus in the UK – and that might be hard for people fleeing without support. Those without a passport will have to go to the application centres to apply. Ministers have not set a limit on the number of refugees the UK will take.

Michael Gove suggested at the weekend that the first refugees could be settled in the UK within a week or so. It might be that a few refugees will be fast-tracked but we can expect it to take longer for most applicants.

Refugees will be allowed to stay for three years and will be entitled to work and receive benefits. They can claim Universal Credit but, if their accommodation arrangement breaks down, they will not be able to claim housing benefit. That is a recipe for rough sleeping.

There have been calls for oligarch’s mansions to be seized and used for refugees. (There was “seizure” protest in London today.) Seizure of mansions could be argued to be poetic justice but, putting aside the legality of that, opulent homes are not what is needed to integrate people fleeing the destruction of their home country into our society, even if they are only here for a few years. And we don’t know if Ukrainians will want to go back in three years’ time. Whether they will be able to go back. Whether there will be anything to go back to other than Putin’s tyranny over a bombed out country.

There are many advantages of refugees coming to towns such as Ludlow. Our town is peaceful, tolerant and welcoming. It is a restful and annealing place. It has reasonable communications. The local support network in Shropshire has also strengthened (see Shropshire Supports Refugees) and, as we saw during the pandemic, we have strong local support.

If you are single person household, you are probably in receipt of a 25% discount on your council tax bill. Ministers have said that the discount will not be affected by housing refugees. They will need to legislate for this but as council tax bills have already been issued there will be time to achieve this.

There are a couple of local questions to be asked.

Do we have enough school places? If only a handful of refugee children come to Ludlow, the answer is there are sufficient places at present. There may be need for specialist language provision and I assume that will come out of the £10,000 given to Shropshire Council for each refugee. A review of school places in Ludlow is already planned for the autumn.

Do we have enough GP capacity? The increase in numbers is likely to be small and GP practices are paid based on the number of patients on their list. However, we have not yet seen no details of extra support for health services, especially for mental health support which we might expect will be in demand.

This scheme is too new to know all the details. What we do know is that we must do everything we can to help people hounded and bombed out of their homes for no fault of their own.

Back to top