Homes for Ukraine two years on: Safe and welcomed

By Cllr Kevin Bentley | 14 March 2024

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine just over two years ago, councils across the UK have and continue to play a pivotal role in supporting over 200,000 Ukrainian people rebuild their lives here. Local government has always been at the forefront of responding at pace and scale to international challenges, and this case was no different.

When the Homes for Ukraine scheme first opened in March 2022, councils redesigned services to ensure host arrangements were appropriate and safe, and worked across government to co-design the scheme as Ukrainians arrived. Two years on, councils continue to link Ukrainians with key services and step in if sponsor arrangements end.  

The scheme has involved councils supporting people to open up their homes in the largest numbers since the Second World War. New friendships have flourished between 140,000 Ukrainians and their hosts, myself among them.

When the Prime Minister called on British people to house Ukrainian refugees, my wife and I simultaneously said that this is something we should do because it is the right thing to do. Anyone in distress, with their country under invasion, should be given help in the best way we can.

We were lucky enough to have room in our home to accommodate people, so we put our names forward. Our two Ukrainian guests, now friends, indeed our family, have been with us since April 2022. They have lost friends in drone attacks and bombings, and their home in Ukraine is under constant attack. Their family is now scattered across Europe, but thanks to modern communications they are able to keep in contact.

This country has a long history of helping people in genuine need, and at the time I remarked to my wife, and to others, that we know how to do this as our parents and grandparents took in evacuees and refugees during the last war.

I am delighted the Government has extended the visa period for Ukrainians staying here, and many, like our two new family members, are playing a full part in our society by working, paying taxes and helping in their communities.

As the war in Ukraine continues, councils remain keen to work with government to meet the long-term needs of Ukrainians, including access to employment, language support and housing. However, funding was halved to £5,900 per person last year, there is no funding beyond the first year of arrivals and there is no funding for or data on the 55,000 Family Visa arrivals, even though they will have the same needs.

With just under 10,000 Ukrainian households presenting as homeless across England since the start of the war, ongoing housing challenges have been recognised by the £270 million homelessness funding across the UK over 2023-25, the development of the Local Authority Housing Fund to increase housing supply, and the increase in funding for long-term sponsors.

 In parallel, councils continue to navigate how best to support all new arrivals in their communities under other asylum and resettlement programmes, all with different engagement, funding, and data arrangements.

Despite these challenges, government research on the experiences of Ukrainians in the UK shows most adults feel their connection to the UK to be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ strong. Councils will continue to work with their communities, hosts and local partners, to ensure Ukrainians and all new arrivals to UK feel safe, settled and welcomed.

Cllr Kevin Bentley is Senior Vice-Chair of the Local Government Association

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