23 February 2023

Ukraine one year on: thousands of Ukrainians in the UK still face significant barriers warns British Red Cross

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  • Some Ukrainians get less support than others, depending on what visa they arrive on
  • 4,000 Ukrainian households in England have been homeless or at risk of homelessness in the last year
  • The rising cost of living is putting huge pressure on both Ukrainians and their hosts
  • British Red Cross is calling on Government to urgently close gaps in support

Generosity from the public has helped many people displaced from Ukraine settle into temporary life in the UK, but thousands still face major challenges, according to a new report from the British Red Cross.

Cost-of-living pressures, barriers to securing private accommodation and a lack of support for hosts helping people on the Ukraine Family Scheme have increased the risk of homelessness, says the charity. The report: Fearing, fleeing, facing the future: how people displaced by the conflict in Ukraine are finding safety in the UK, released today, 24 February 2023, marks one year since the conflict in Ukraine escalated.

The UK government provided safe routes out of Ukraine for more than 161,000 people, through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme and the Ukraine Family Scheme. The report reflects on the successes of this unique and vital response, but also highlights the areas that need urgent improvement. This includes the stark disparities in the level of support people receive via each scheme.

Mike Adamson, British Red Cross Chief Executive, said:

“One year on since the conflict in Ukraine escalated, many displaced people in the UK are still living with their hosts, finding jobs and settling into life here. But many others are struggling.

"We must ensure the warm welcome shown by thousands of people is recognised and built on, so we don’t see more families facing homelessness on top of trauma.

“We should not have a situation where the type of visa you arrived on determines whether or not your host family receives support. This is putting huge pressure on families in the UK who are doing their best to help, especially with rising bills and food costs.

"Gaps in support and barriers to securing accommodation are also making life hard for Ukrainian families, who are already dealing with the emotional impact of the conflict.”

Thousands of people struggling to make ends meet

The British Red Cross is the UK’s largest refugee service provider. Over the last year, it has supported more than 60,000 Ukrainians in the UK with help including emergency cash, emotional support and SIM cards.

In addition, the charity’s  refugee services have helped more than 2,000 Ukrainians in the UK who are struggling with accommodation, food and basic supplies.

Many people supporting people from Ukraine through government schemes say they are struggling to afford to continue hosting people, especially with the added pressures of the cost-of-living crisis.

Almost a third (29%) of people displaced from Ukraine – around 46,900 people – arrived in the UK on the Ukraine Family Scheme, but relatives who are hosting them receive no financial support.

The government has announced hosts on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme will receive increased ‘thank you’ payments each month. Sponsors through this scheme have the option of receiving a £350 ‘thank you’ payment per month per household.

This increases to £500 a month but only after a person has been in the UK for 12 months. With thousands of people already struggling and bills rising, the British Red Cross is warning this could come in too late and won’t always be enough.  

At the same time, many people displaced from Ukraine – including those who are working – are struggling to afford or access privately rented housing. More than 4,000 Ukrainian households in England have been homeless or at risk of homelessness in the last year – a 97% increase since October 2022.

Natalia’s* story: “I don’t know how much longer I can last”

Natalia had lived in the UK for 12 years when she sponsored her mother, sister and two young nephews in Spring 2022 through the Ukraine Family Scheme.

With all the costs and admin of starting a new life, Natalia has been struggling to get them settled without any support, while working full-time herself.

Her mother worked in a school and her sister was an accountant in Ukraine, but they haven’t been able to find jobs in the UK. They live in a rural area where public transport is expensive and unreliable. They also face a language barrier.  

Natalia said: “When the war started, all I was thinking about was getting my family out. The Homes for Ukraine Scheme didn’t exist, so I used the Family Scheme. It feels unfair because this has meant we didn’t get the financial support other people have had.

“Overnight, my sister became a single mum because her husband is stuck in Ukraine. This has made finding work even more difficult for her without childcare. Both she and my mother always worked but no one will hire them here.

“I have to take them to the Job Centre every fortnight. They say they treat everyone the same, but my family don’t drive or speak any English, so surely there should be more support.

"It’s me who has to fill in every single form, whether it’s for schools, dentists, doctors, bills. I keep taking time off work to help my family, but it’s too much. Now I’m having a mental health referral for myself. I don’t know how much longer I can last.”

Natalia initially managed to find her family affordable accommodation, but the landlord has asked them to move out this Spring. They’re not eligible to be matched with hosts on the Homes for Ukraine scheme because they came via the Ukraine Family Scheme.

She said: “The agencies I spoke to told me no landlord will take my family, because they’re refugees and on Universal Credit. I’ve found it heart-breaking and frustrating. I’ve been told if I pay six months upfront, I will get a property. So that’s what I’m doing now - taking a debt to secure some housing for my family.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

British Red Cross calls for action and clarity from government

The additional funding announced by Government in December 2022 won’t address many people’s immediate needs and the details of longer-term support also remain unclear.

The British Red Cross is calling for further action and clarity from the UK Government to support people displaced by the conflict in Ukraine and prevent thousands more people being pushed into poverty and homelessness. The charity is urging the government to:

  • Make sure both hosts and displaced Ukrainians under the Ukraine Family Scheme receive the same support as those on the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.
  • Immediately increase monthly payments for all hosts in line with the rising cost of living
  • Work with national and local governments to share best practice and rapidly develop ways to prevent homelessness and help people into the private rented sector. This should include schemes supporting Ukrainians with deposits
  • Clarify the details and allocation of the £150 million one-off funding for local authorities so they can address growing housing needs
  • Deliver on its 2022 commitment to allow people on the Ukraine Family Scheme to be rematched with hosts who offer their homes through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme
  • Look at learnings from the Ukraine response and work with the British Red Cross to improve the UK’s policies for people reuniting with family and seeking asylum.

The report also recognises the many positive results of the support provided in the UK. This includes enabling 161,400 people to quickly and safely escape Ukraine and seek protection in the UK. Local authorities have had funding for wraparound support for those who arrived via the Homes for Ukraine Scheme.

The report also looks at where lessons could be learnt for future operations. The British Red Cross is encouraging policy makers to consider how safe routes could be expanded to others seeking safety.

Adamson continues:

“While there are problems that need addressing, the UK's response to the conflict in Ukraine demonstrates what’s possible when we provide safe routes for people in need of protection.

"Notably, no Ukrainians were recorded as crossing the English Channel according to the most recent data. The UK government should now take stock to improve the way it responds to refugees fleeing conflict, violence and persecution in other countries too.”

- ENDS -

Notes for editors

  1. In the latest survey by ONS published December 2022, when Homes for Ukraine hosts were asked if rising costs were affecting their ability to provide support on the scheme, 18 per cent reported ‘very much’, compared with 9 per cent in July 2022.
  2. As of 7 February 2023, 46,900 arrivals via the Ukraine Family Scheme. Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ukraine-family-scheme-application-data/ukraine-family-scheme-and-ukraine-sponsorship-scheme-homes-for-ukraine-visa-data--2
  3. Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (2023), Homelessness management information – Ukrainian nationals: England 24 February – 27 January 2023. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/homelessness-management-information-ukrainian-nationals-england
  4. Data on numbers of people crossing the Channel - Home Office (2022). ‘Irregular migration to the UK, year ending September 2022’. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/irregular-migration-to-the-uk-year-ending-september-2022/irregular-migration-to-the-uk-year-ending-september-2022