204,900 Ukrainians have been granted UK visas under the Ukraine Schemes since Russia’s invasion. Of the 149,200 who have arrived in the country, 49% are women and 31% are children.
The Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme was introduced in March last year in order to allow Ukrainians affected by the war swifter passage into the UK. The scheme enables people living in the UK to sponsor a Ukrainian to come and live with them. Unlike other newly recognised refugees who are only given 28 days before they are evicted from asylum accommodation, the Ukraine Scheme requires sponsors to provide an initial six months of housing, after which Ukrainians are expected to get rematched with a new host or begin renting.
However, the cost-of-living crisis and competitive housing markets mean that the road ahead for many refugees is unlikely to be smooth.
According to BBC analysis, around 51,000 Ukrainians housed under the Homes for Ukraine scheme have now come to the end of their six-month sponsorship period. If these families and individuals’ sponsorship living arrangements are not renewed, they will need to find new accommodation.
The end of these host arrangements comes in the midst of chronic localised housing shortages in the UK’s most economically successful cities. London Councils research shows that only 8.8% of all London rental properties are affordable on the Local Housing Allowance. Broader data from the Office for National Statistics found that the 12 months ending in September 2022 saw the sharpest rise in the cost of private rentals across the country since 2008, with an increase of 3.6%. Increasing rental prices coupled with supply shortages in desirable locations means that refugees on low incomes and with limited savings are not in a strong position to enter the rental market. In addition to a lack of affordable supply, many landlords’ are requesting that applicants provide a UK based guarantor or pay large sums upfront posing additional barriers that are often near impossible for refugees to overcome.
The potential for Ukrainians to rematch with new hosts is also not without challenges. The economic strain engendered by the cost-of-living crisis coupled with the social strain of housing additional people in homes is undoubtedly being felt by many UK families. Consequently, as of August this year the Office for National Statistics found that one quarter of hosts do not plan to continue hosting past their six-month period and an additional 15% are unsure about their plans. Multiple councils are reporting even lower uptake in hosts rematching with new house guests, with only 10% of surveyed hosts in Leicestershire and 15% in Gloucestershire reporting capacity to do so. Speaking to The Guardian, Liberal Democrat leader of South Cambridgeshire district council Bridget Smith said:
“Now that we have the cost-of-living crisis, I think that makes the potential for a crisis much more real. No matter how altruistic and kind and generous our hosts are – and many are not wealthy people – this will be putting serious pressures on them…”
For those Ukrainians who do find a new host, rematching will also mean repeating the pattern of dislocation that the war started, for a very short-term solution. Speaking to The Guardian on the subject Barry Wood, the Conservative leader of Cherwell District Council, said that “Where there is a breakdown of the arrangement heading our way, we’re looking for substitute hosts…That’s not ideal, especially when there are kids in primary schools because they shouldn’t be uprooted”. Given that children make up more than a third of Ukrainian arrivals, this is a very real possibility for many families and young children.
This storm of factors is placing many Ukrainian refugees at risk of becoming homeless this Christmas. The Department for Levelling Up found that as of the 18th of November, more than 9,00 Ukrainian individuals and 2,000 families with children had registered with councils due to having nowhere to live. Shadow minister Paula Barker told PoliticsHome that the alarming figures were evidence “countless warnings” had gone “unheeded” by the government. The actual number of Ukrainians facing potential homelessness is also likely much higher than these figures show, as the non-mandatory nature of reporting means that more than 25% of local authorities have not provided data.
In a written statement to TIME, James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association, said:
“We are deeply concerned at the growing number of Ukrainians presenting as homeless to their council, and in particular the significant rise in the number of those who arrived through the Homes for Ukraine scheme”.
And it is not only Ukrainian refugees who face these threats, other asylum seekers in the UK are placed at an increased risk of homelessness after they receive their refugee status. The Home Office provides subsistence support of under £6 per day and accommodation on a no-choice basis for people seeking asylum that would otherwise be destitute. But once they are awarded refugee status this supports stops in under a month. When comparing the Statutory Homelessness Annual Report’s 2020-21 to 2021-22 figures, households with a former asylum seeker support need showed the largest increase in being placed at risk of homelessness of all support need groups, with an increase of 42.6%.
Homelessness across the UK is also on the rise, with the same report showing an 11.3% increase in the number of households threatened with homelessness in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21. Because of the hidden nature of much homelessness, for instance people couch surfing without having a permanent place to live, the Homelessness charity Crisis has estimated that as many as 62% of homeless people do not show up in official figures.
In this climate of increasing homelessness across the UK, the prospect of more vulnerable people becoming homelessness and placing more pressure on an already overloaded system is frightening.
Councils already have more than a million households in the UK waiting for homes. Anyone who becomes homeless now will join these waiting lists, and councils will continue to spend more on putting them in alternate short term accommodation options.
“I have about 1,600 people on my housing list at the moment and some of the London boroughs have tens of thousands,” Smith said to The Guardian “I get the sense that the government thinks the job has been done. They urgently need to review the schemes.”
Brits offering up their homes is only a limited and short-term solution and LGA’s Jamieson asserts that “urgent solutions to pressing housing needs in the short and the long term” for both refugees and other citizens.
However, without immediate government backing in sight, 36-year-old Ukrainian refugee Olha Plyushch in conversation with TIME says that she sympathises with worries about the cost-of-living crisis while also wondering “what about the cost of life?”.