The statement made by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in the House of Commons on 14 March 2022.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on our Government’s response to help those fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.
This Government and this House—indeed, everyone in the UK—continue to be in awe of the bravery of the people of Ukraine. They are victims of savage, indiscriminate, unprovoked aggression. Their courage under fire and determination to resist inspires our total admiration.
The United Kingdom stands with the Ukrainian people. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has been in the vanguard of those providing military assistance. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has been co-ordinating diplomatic support and, with my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and Business Secretary, implementing a new and tougher than ever sanctions regime. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Home Office have also been providing humanitarian support on the ground to Ukraine’s neighbours, helping them to cope with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people—but more can, and must, be done.
To that end, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already expanded the family route. She has also confirmed that from tomorrow Ukrainians with passports will be able to apply for UK visas entirely online without having to visit visa application centres. As a result, the number of Ukrainians now arriving in this country is rapidly increasing and numbers will grow even faster from tomorrow.
We also know, however, that the unfailingly compassionate British public want to help further. That is why today we are answering that call with the announcement of a new sponsorship scheme, Homes for Ukraine. I thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and officials in the Home Office, in my own Department and across Government for their work over the course of the past days and weeks to ensure that we can stand up this scheme as quickly as possible. In particular, I thank my noble Friend Richard Harrington, now Lord Harrington of Watford, whose experience in ensuring that the Syrian refugee resettlement programme was a success will prove invaluable in ensuring that we do right by the people of Ukraine.
The scheme that Lord Harrington has helped us to design draws on the enormous good will and generosity of the British public, and our proud history of supporting the vulnerable in their hour of greatest need. The scheme will allow Ukrainians with no family ties to the UK to be sponsored by individuals or organisations who can offer them a home. There will be no limit to the number of Ukrainians who can benefit from it.
The scheme will be open to all Ukrainian nationals and residents, and they will be able to live and work in the United Kingdom for up to three years.[Official Report, 15 March 2022, Vol. 710, c. 9MC.] They will have full and unrestricted access to benefits, healthcare, employment and other support. Sponsors in the UK can be of any nationality, with any immigration status, provided they have at least six months’ leave to remain within the UK.
Sponsors will have to provide accommodation for a minimum of six months. In recognition of their generosity, the Government will provide a monthly payment of £350 to sponsors for each family whom they look after. These payments will be tax-free. They will not affect benefit entitlement or council tax status. Ukrainians arriving in the United Kingdom will have access to the full range of public services—doctors, schools, and full local authority support. Of course we want to minimise bureaucracy and make the process as straightforward as possible while doing everything we can to ensure the safety of all involved. Sponsors will therefore be required to undergo necessary vetting checks, and we are also streamlining processes to security-assess the status of Ukrainians who will be arriving in the United Kingdom.
From today, anyone who wishes to record their interest in sponsorship can do so on gov.uk; the webpage has gone live as I speak. We will then send any individual who registers further information setting out the next steps in this process. We will outline what is required of a sponsor and set out how sponsors can identify a named Ukrainian individual or family who can then take up each sponsorship offer. Because we want the scheme to be up and running as soon as possible, Homes for Ukraine will initially facilitate sponsorship between people with known connections, but we will rapidly expand the scheme in a phased way, with charities, churches and community groups, to ensure that many more prospective sponsors can be matched with Ukrainians who need help. We are of course also working closely with the devolved Administrations to make sure that their kind offers of help are mobilised. I know that all concerned want to play their part in supporting Ukrainians, who have been through so much, to ensure that they feel at home in the United Kingdom, and I am committed to working with everyone of good will to achieve this.
Our country has a long and proud history of supporting the most vulnerable during their darkest hour. We took in refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany, those fleeing repression in Idi Amin’s Uganda, and those who fled the atrocities of the Balkan wars. More recently, we have offered support to those fleeing persecution in Syria, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. We are doing so again with Homes for Ukraine. We are a proud democracy. All of us in this House wish to see us defend and uphold our values, stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies, and offer a safe haven to people who have been forced to flee war and persecution. The British people have already opened their hearts in so many ways. I am hopeful that many will also be ready to open their homes and help those fleeing persecution to find peace, healing and the prospect of a brighter future. That is why I commend this statement to the House.