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Homes for Ukraine proves how broken our housing market really is

Whether it is the privately rented sector or social housing, there are just not enough affordable homes available

Olivia Blake
Tuesday 04 October 2022 13:15 BST
Mortgage crisis: First-time buyer claims lenders revised her rate 'from 4.5% to 10.5%'

This month is the sixth since the first Ukrainians were resettled in Britain through the government’s “Homes for Ukraine” scheme. Many people across the country were keen to help those fleeing violence and generously opened their homes. I was proud that in Sheffield alone, 500 Ukrainian refugee households were matched with hosts. The scheme has certainly been successful in highlighting the widespread desire in this country to help those escaping a war zone.

However, the government’s failure to plan ahead now risks exacerbating the homelessness crisis. Government data has revealed that 1,335 Ukrainian households, including 945 families with children, have registered as homeless since February. And there are fears that up to 50,000 Ukrainian refugees could still become homeless next year, as hosting periods are coming to an end and some households decide not to renew their commitment.

With the escalating cost of living crisis set to hit many families this winter, this could be a factor in why some chose not to renew. To counter this, Lord Harrington, who was until recently a refugee minister, lobbied for an increase in hosts’ allowance to £700 per month if they agree to house Ukrainians for longer than the initial six-month period. However, thus far, the new government has not committed to any further support packages.

Perhaps the government anticipated that most Ukrainians will, after this initial period, be able to move into homes supplied by the privately rented sector. But the UK’s ongoing housing crisis means that this is no easy option. Rents across the country have risen by 3.2 per cent in the 12 months up to July 2022, which marks the highest increase since December 2008. Rents in major UK cities have risen even more, and prospective tenants have to compete against each other in “bidding wars” or pay enormous amounts of money up front to secure tenancies.

Ukrainians who will have been in the country only for a few months will find this overheated market difficult to navigate. They might lack the funds for a deposit, have no rental references, and might not be in secure, long-term employment which is required for many tenancies. Some people in this situation might be able to rent with the help of a guarantor; however, without a larger personal network in the UK, this option – again – looks unrealistic for refugees.

When the scheme was conceived, several organisations highlighted the concern that these problems could arise without careful planning. Now they have materialised. We need urgent government action to ensure refugees have secure, safe housing – and in the long term, we need to address the housing crisis at the root of the issue.

Whether it is the privately rented sector or social housing, there are just not enough affordable homes available. There are currently over a million households on waiting lists for social housing. While housing estates across the country are being demolished, far too little social housing is being rebuilt.

This is also affecting other refugees. As of August, there were still 10,000 Afghan refugees in temporary hotel accommodation. These hotel rooms are clearly not suitable for people’s long-term housing needs. Not having the security of a permanent home will prevent many from settling into a new life here. One year on from the evacuation of Kabul, this is clearly an unacceptable situation.

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There is a danger that the shortage becomes an opportunistic excuse to lapse into the cliched far-right anti-migrant refrain: “Refugees, migrants and asylum seekers are stealing our homes – shut the borders”. This would be to draw all the wrong lessons from what is happening.

The housing shortage isn’t caused by the arrival of more people, but decades of failed housing policy which has brought us to breaking point, as rents and house prices become increasingly unaffordable.

The emerging housing shortage for Ukrainian refugees shines a light on already-existing systemic issues prevalent in our housing market. To tackle them, the government must urgently prioritise building more social housing and bring forward controls to relieve all renters – asylum seeker, migrant or otherwise – of extortionate rents. Only then can we make progress towards secure housing for all, whatever your background or the border you crossed to be here.

Olivia Blake is the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam

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