Despite being a little slow to get off the ground, the government’s new Homes for Ukraine policy has been met with a huge amount of interest. With 120,000 applications from British people in its first day alone, the project has the makings of a big success story.
The scheme, which allows individuals to sponsor and offer space in their homes for those fleeing Putin’s war of aggression, has not been seen before in Britain. And while it might sound counter-intuitive, Homes for Ukraine is actually a uniquely Conservative way to welcome refugees. Previous refugee programmes leaned less on individuals and families and more on the state. But rather than channelling all responsibility to what is often mismanaged and inefficient government provision, this scheme allows individuals to step up and offer support themselves. Indeed, it offers the Tories a chance to prove that there is more to compassion than the state; that the individual and the family often prove to be the best units to provide support to those in need.
In Canada, a similar yet broader scheme operates that has increased public acceptance of refugees. When refugees are proudly and easily welcomed into the community – living with a host family, speaking English, more easily partaking in local life – it allows the country to see refugees for the people they are, rather than a frightening “other”.
So often what people fear with refugee schemes is ghettoised communities, isolation, and cost to the taxpayer. The Homes for Ukraine scheme offers the potential to achieve the opposite. This is why it is outrageous that the offer is so far limited only to those who wish to house Ukrainian refugees.
At present the scheme is significantly oversubscribed. As the Ukrainian Ambassador said last week, most Ukrainian refugees want to remain close to their homeland, in countries such as Poland rather than the UK. The government expects the number of refugees to be in the “tens of thousands”, so there may be spare capacity.
All the while, around 12,000 Afghan refugees are stuck in hotels, unable to find their own accommodation and costing the taxpayer £1.2 million every day. Would it not make sense to offer every Brit who has offered space for Ukrainians the option of housing an Afghan refugee instead? The expensive and cumbersome state “Operation Warm Welcome” scheme for Afghan refugees could be rolled into the more individualist, charitable model of Homes for Ukraine.
Yes, not every one of the 120,000 Brits who signed up to Homes for Ukraine on day one will want to take in an Afghan refugee. Yet even in the highly unlikely event that the scheme receives no more applications, willingness from just 10 per cent of existing applicants would be sufficient to host all the Afghan refugees in the UK.
What a win-win-win that would be – for the UK (and for the Conservative Party’s values). A caring host family for vulnerable people. A saving for the taxpayer, ending enormous hotel bills. And a beacon to the world of Global Britain’s generosity at times of crisis.
[See also: Volunteer refugee hosts shame the Home Office]