Greenwich councillors criticised the cut in government funding for councils helping Ukrainian refugees last night as the world prepared to mark the anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s war.
Today is one year since Russian forces invaded Ukraine, with refugees from the fighting making new homes across Europe.
In Britain, councils have a legal responsibility to help refugees and asylum seekers, and at first the government paid local authorities £10,500 for each Ukrainian that arrived in their area.
However, before Christmas this sum was cut to £5,900 per refugee – with Michael Gove’s Department of Levelling Up blaming “wider pressures on the public finances”.
Government data released this week revealed that over 4,000 refugees received homelessness support from councils in the last year, including 53 in Greenwich.
The cut was condemned by Greenwich Council leader Anthony Okereke at last night’s full council meeting.
Putting a question to Okereke, Creekside councillor Calum O’Byrne Mulligan said: “I would hope other members here would agree with me that it’s right that this country is providing military, economic and political support to the Ukrainian people.
“Just as we will all urge the government to do more to tanks, ammunition, and everything else that the Ukrainians need to help those who are fighting for freedom and the rule of law, would he also agree that we need to be calling on the government to do more to support local authorities rather than cutting in half the support that we have to help every Ukrainian who is living with us?”
Okereke said: “We stand with our Ukrainian refugees who have come here to seek refuge from the disastrous war that Russia is waging on their country.
“Whether they be refugees or asylum seekers, we don’t have a good process for welcoming them or supporting them, or funding councils to step in and support them. The cut that’s happened to the refugee scheme for Ukrainians – we stand against that. The government does need to step up in this area.”
Okereke agreed with Abbey Wood councillor Denise Hyland, a former council leader, when she praised the work of council officers who have worked with refugees from Ukraine.
“It is a frightening situation where your country is being attacked by another and you have to leave your home to come somewhere you’ve probably never been to before and begin to start a new life,” he said.
“That’s what our Ukrainian refugees have had to go through. So first of all, we pay tribute to them who have made that journey and are embedding themselves in our societies. I’d like to thank the teams that have been supporting them because it’s also dealing with the trauma refugees have faced, and they do a great job in supporting them.”
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