On 7 July 2022, the House of Lords is due to debate the following question for short debate:

Lord Loomba (Crossbench) to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the needs of mothers and dependent children arriving from Ukraine as refugees, particularly regarding their (1) welfare, (2) subsistence, (3) safety, (3) health, (4) schooling, and (5) path towards self-reliance.

1. UK schemes and support for Ukrainian refugees

1.1 Information on the schemes

Ukrainian refugees need to obtain a visa to come to the UK. The two principal methods for Ukrainian refugees to obtain visas to come to the UK are the:

  • Ukraine family scheme, which launched on 4 March 2022
  • Ukraine sponsorship scheme (or Homes for Ukraine scheme), which launched on 18 March 2022

The sponsorship scheme allows “people seeking sanctuary with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or organisations who can offer them a home, such as a spare room or unoccupied residential self-contained unit”. In most circumstances, Ukrainians aged under 18 can only come to the UK under the scheme as part of an application by their parent or legal guardian. However, the government did introduce a policy on 22 June 2022 which will currently allow around 1,000 unaccompanied minors to come to the UK (based on their previous application to the scheme and proof of parental consent).

In contrast, the family scheme allows “immediate and extended family members of British nationals, people settled in the UK, and certain others resident here, to come to, or remain in the UK”. This scheme allows applications by those aged under 18.

1.2 Support and protection when in the UK

Under both schemes, successful applicants would obtain a visa allowing them to live and work in the UK for up to three years. They would also be able to access healthcare, benefits, employment support, education and other support. In addition, those applying to house Ukrainians under the sponsorship scheme will be subject to certain checks, including disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks if they will be housing a child and visits from the council to check the accommodation is suitable.

The government has prepared a welcome pack for Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK, which is available in English, Ukrainian and Russian. The pack includes links and information on a range of matters intended to help with their stay in the UK, including:

  • claiming benefits
  • accessing public services and healthcare
  • finding employment
  • childcare and education (this includes how to apply for a school place)

In addition, the document states that each family member arriving under the sponsorship scheme will be provided with a £200 grant from the council to “help cover any immediate costs”.

The document also provides a link to the ukrainianswelcome.org website for further information on settling in the UK. This website is run by six non-governmental organisations/charities: Hope for Justice; Justice and Care; Stop the Traffik; The Freedom Fund; Unseen; and World Rights Centre.

The government has also published guidance for local authorities on their responsibilities relating to Ukrainian refugees who have arrived under the sponsorship scheme. This includes information on ensuring access to education for children and the council’s responsibilities where there is a risk of homelessness.

In addition, the guidance sets out the local authority’s safeguarding duties, and stresses that the authority should make at least one in-person visit once the guest(s) arrives to see whether there are any welfare concerns or formal assessments that should be undertaken. Although the guidance stresses that “the vast majority of those applying to be Homes for Ukraine sponsor households will be doing so for altruistic reasons”, there are always risks that some sponsors will apply “for the wrong reasons”. The guidance urges vigilance by local authorities, noting that some issues will only emerge over time, and highlights some of the issues the local authority should be particularly aware of:

The sponsor household and guest household will each retain responsibility for their own family members. As the provider of the accommodation, the sponsor is in a relative position of power. There will also be potential harms from outside of the household that guest families (both adults and children) may be vulnerable to. Local authorities should particularly consider whether there are risks or instances of:

  • exploitation and trafficking
  • modern slavery
  • domestic abuse
  • child abuse
  • child sexual exploitation
  • criminal exploitation

The government has also published the following information aimed at supporting Ukrainian refugees with health, education and employment:

  • Guidance for primary care. This sets out how primary care should support Ukrainian refugees and outlines issues that should be considered when dealing with them; for example, it highlights the possibility of mental health concerns among refugees and gives information on the prevalence or treatment of certain conditions in Ukraine.
  • Resources to help support children and young people. Information and links to resources to help young refugees, including wellbeing, mental health and language support.
  • Scheme seeking offers of employment for refugees. This scheme allows employers to share job offers with Ukrainian refugees, including part-time and full-time roles.

1.3 Data on those arriving

As at 28 June 2022, the Home Office reported that 142,500 visas had been issued and 86,600 Ukrainians had arrived in the UK under the schemes. The majority (98,400) were issued under the sponsorship scheme, and 58,800 had already come to the country under this scheme.

The Home Office does not provide a breakdown of these figures by gender or relationship status. However, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published data obtained from a survey of recently arrived Ukrainian refugees conducted in April 2022.

The ONS survey found:

  • The majority of the refugees were female (82%), and 4 in 10 (44%) were aged 30 to 49 years.
  • The majority (93%) lived in England, with 31% living in London.
  • The preferred language when accessing information in the UK was Ukrainian for 64% of respondents, although around a third of respondents (34%) said they could speak a fair amount or were fluent in English.
  • Almost half of respondents (48%) reported living with at least one dependent child; of those, the most commonly required education service was primary education (48%).
  • Nearly half (43%) said they had a bank or post office account in the UK, while 26% reported they had enough money to support themselves and their dependents for the next three months.
  • 67% of respondents said they had been employed or self-employed when in Ukraine, and 68% of those aged 18 to 65 years reported being very likely or likely to look for work in the next month.
  • The majority of respondents said their overall physical health and overall mental health was good or very good (77% and 76% respectively). These figures are comparable with the UK average health status.

2. Difficulties faced by Ukrainian families in the UK

In an article published at the end of May 2022, the BBC listed some of the difficulties that have been raised by Ukrainian refugees and their families. It flagged matters including:

  • Financial issues. For example, it noted the lack of financial support available under the family scheme, both for the households housing the refugees and for the refugees themselves. In contrast, under the sponsorship scheme refugees receive a one-off £200 grant and sponsor households are eligible to claim £350 a month for housing them.
  • Risk of homelessness. It reported that the chair of the Local Government Association, James Jamieson, had said councils were seeing a “concerning increase in homelessness” as a result of some relationships between refugees and their households breaking down. The charity Refugees at Home recommended financial support to relatives hosting family members and recognition that hosts should not be wholly responsible for their guests’ wellbeing.
  • Problems with job checks. It said that some Ukrainians were struggling to get certain jobs, such as those in schools, because of difficulties obtaining safeguarding checks. It noted that many of these jobs were particularly suitable for mothers with young children.

Responding to certain points in the article, the government stated that “very few” of the sponsorships were breaking down and that local authorities have provided support or found other sponsors to prevent homelessness. It also said that support was available for applying for jobs and obtaining criminal records checks.

In addition, the Guardian has published articles expressing concerns about the impact of childcare costs on Ukrainian women’s chances of finding employment and the increasing financial pressures being faced by refugees (including difficulties accessing benefits) and their hosts: Miranda Bryant, ‘Ukrainian women fear childcare issues will affect their ability to work in UK’, 22 May 2022; and ‘Ukrainian refugees turn to food banks as UK hosts struggle with costs’, 28 May 2022. The articles highlighted the increased burden on the voluntary sector to offer help to Ukrainian refugees and called for more financial support for individuals and charities.

The government stressed the support provided by government and local authorities, including the right of refugees to access childcare support.

3. Read more

Cover image by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash.