District Councils’ Network calls for action to ensure sustainability of support for Ukrainians
New analysis has revealed the vital role councils in shire England are playing in offering essential support to Ukrainian refugee families.
District Councils’ Network (DCN) analysis shows that its member councils have welcomed more than 31,000 Ukrainians into their communities. Thirteen of the 15 areas welcoming the largest number of arrivals per resident are DCN member councils.
DCN councils and all housing authorities are working flat-out to ensure all Ukrainian arrivals have the safe, suitable housing and welfare assistance they need to settle in our communities. And they are working closely with other councils and local partners to provide vital wraparound support. For example: ensuring access to interpreters and English language lessons, facilitating access to local support services including health, and arranging subsidised use of transport.
Refugees Minister, Lord Harrington, visited Cherwell District Council in Oxfordshire on 15 August to see how the council and its partners, including Oxfordshire County Council, are going the extra mile to support Ukrainians. He met Ukrainian families and their hosts, and heard about the very real human impact and the compassion being shown by local people.
However, he also heard about the significant challenges looming as the initial six-month sponsorships near their end.
Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that 26% of Homes for Ukraine sponsors do not intend to continue their placements beyond the six-month point. In DCN council areas alone, this would leave at least 8,000 Ukrainians needing alternative accommodation and additional support. The impact will start to be felt as soon as September.
Housing authorities are already working hard to find new sponsors when placements are breaking down. Government has written to councils about its plans to encourage sponsors to extend placements, and to set out steps to aid finding new sponsors where that’s not possible. We believe that further clarity and communication with both sponsors and guests on their options is essential; and our members will work closely with Government to maximise success. However, we remain concerned that the proposals announced so far will not be enough.
Sector leaders across England are warning that action is needed now to put in place joined-up, long-term solutions that will allow refugees from Ukraine and earlier schemes (Afghanistan, Syria, Hong Kong) to settle successfully. In many areas there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing and temporary accommodation is already fully utilised. Without action, the pressure on local housing and public services will become even more acute. And, alongside it, the prospect of further disruption to the lives of Ukrainian families who desperately need stability.
The DCN is calling for:
- Higher funding on a long-term basis to ensure councils have the resources to fully fund their support to refugees
- Equality of funding and treatment for all refugee groups who have arrived in recent years, including from Afghanistan, Syria and Hong Kong.
- Investment to help councils acquire housing in the short term and to accelerate the building of new affordable homes, including modular construction.
- Improvements to welfare processes to assist Ukrainian arrivals, such as accelerating the Universal Credit application process
- Renewed national campaign to increase the number of Homes for Ukraine sponsors.
- Wider action to reduce housing pressures, such as uprating Local Housing Allowance rates, providing a flexible homelessness prevention fund to housing authorities, and reversing cuts to Discretionary Housing Payments.
Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen, Chairman of the DCN, said
“Our member councils are committed to working with government to support our new residents from Ukraine. However, given the current cost-of-living crisis, district councils’ ability to support all of our residents at risk of homelessness is under more pressure than ever before – there simply isn’t sufficient accommodation.
“The DCN would like to see action taken to increase funding, join up the approaches across refugee resettlement schemes, reduce the risk of homelessness and accelerate new affordable housing.
“Many of our councils are pursuing innovative solutions to increase housing supply, but we need a nationwide strategy that works.
“Urgent action is needed to minimise disruption for all refugees in our areas, many of whom will have children starting or returning to schools in September.
“Our benefits and housing teams are working tirelessly to support both our new arrivals and longstanding residents reeling from the cost-of-living crisis through these difficult times. But these services must also be properly resourced if we are to succeed.”
Councillor Bridget Smith, Leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council and Vice-Chair of the DCN, said:
“I’m immensely proud of the trailblazing work which South Cambridgeshire has been doing to welcome all of our Ukrainian guests to our district.
“We have been working extremely hard to help our new residents adjust to life in our beautiful part of the world. This has included providing additional financial support to compensate for the slowness of the benefits application process to allow them to settle in quickly to their new homes and to relieve pressure on their generous hosts.”
For further notes and case studies on how DCN councils are supporting Ukrainian arrivals please contact firstname.lastname@example.org