Written evidence submitted by Professor Sara Jones and Dr Irina Kuznetsova, University of Birmingham


Executive summary

This evidence submission is based on two ongoing research projects being conducted at the University of Birmingham: Post-Socialist Britain and Futures of Ukraine. These projects provide insight into the perceptions and lived experiences of Ukrainians in the UK. The submission focuses on the committee questions relating to the 1) funding of the scheme and 2) challenges and future risks. The evidence supports the following key conclusions/recommendations:







This evidence combines the findings of two research studies being conducted at the University of Birmingham: Post-Socialist Britain (led by Jones) and Futures of Ukraine (led by Kuznetsova with Jones as co-investigator).

1)    Post-Socialist Britain (funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council) explores the lived experiences of Ukrainian movers to the UK – including those displaced by the most recent Russian aggression. Through a series of qualitative interviews, the research highlights the stories behind the statistics and the everyday challenges faced by those arriving in the UK via Homes for Ukraine. The focus is the impact of history and stereotypes about movers from the East of Europe.

2)    Futures of Ukraine (funded by the Research England QR Policy Support Fund) uses participatory research to understand if and how state measures – such as Homes for Ukraine – meet the needs of young, displaced Ukrainians. It works with young Ukrainians in the UK, Germany, and Poland to explore their lived experiences, their visions for the future of Ukraine, and their aspirations to return to Ukraine at the end of the war.

This joint submission combines our findings relating to the Homes for Ukraine scheme. The richness of our qualitative data provides a better understanding of how government policy impacts the day-to-day lives of displaced Ukrainians, the challenges they have experienced, and their own visions for the future of the scheme. The evidence provided here comprises the findings from Post-Socialist Britain that are not included in the project’s published report: Support for Displaced Ukrainians: The Role of History and Stereotypes, which we also recommend to the committee.

Committee Question: Funding provided for the scheme

1.1 Several participants in the Post-Socialist Britain study note that the experiences of displaced Ukrainians varied considerably according to the local authority in which they were registered. The challenges around the funding provided to support Ukrainian visa holders in Birmingham and the serious questions raised around the use of funds are well-documented. The narratives of our participants in Post-Socialist Britain indicate that local community-based support is often more effective, including support provided by migrant organisations who understand the specific needs of this group. We recommend that national and local government prioritise these specialised groups in future funding allocations.

1.2 In many cases, hosts provided extra support to Ukrainians beyond accommodation – for example, helping enrol children in schools and with other paperwork. One of the participants in the Futures of Ukraine project even mentioned that hosts offered to allow them to stay in their home, even after the parents moved to rented accommodation, so that they could finish their GSCE exams. Such unpaid voluntary work provides a valuable resource for integrating Ukrainian refugees, but it is not sustainable for an extended period additional funding would therefore be beneficial.

Committee Question: Challenges and future risks

A. Cultural Stereotyping

2.1 National-level data on the experiences of both sponsors and guests is provided by the Office for National Statistics. The most recent data on sponsors (published October 2023) indicates that only 48% of those surveyed still have guests. This is a significant decrease from the data provided in November 2022 when 74% of those surveyed still had guests. Of those who currently do not have guests, 47% would not host again. In November 2022, 73% of former hosts stated that they would not host again. This indicates that the respondents to the 2023 survey on the whole had more satisfactory experiences with hosting than those answering the survey in 2022. Notably, the 2023 respondents were engaging in longer hosting arrangements with most (79%) hosting for more than six months (60% in 2022). The 2022 data can therefore give us an indication of challenges in the early period of the hosting arrangement and is useful to consider alongside the 2023 data.

2.2 These early challenges are various and include the unexpected burden of unpaid voluntary labour outlined above, and the desire to have one’s home to oneself again. Our research in Post-Socialist Britain considers specifically the intercultural dimension of hosting arrangements. An important statistic in these data sets relates to the reason for hosting arrangements coming to an end. In 2022, 11% of those currently hosting and who have hosted other guests previously stated that the previous arrangement ended because of a breakdown in the relationship between sponsor and guests. For those who chose not to host again, this figure is 21%. In the 2023 data, relationship breakdown is given as a reason for the end of a prior hosting arrangement by 4% of those currently hosting, and 9% of those who have had guests but were not hosting at the time of the survey. 67% of the 2023 respondents stated that a strong relationship with guests is the reason that they intend the sponsorship arrangement to last more than 18 months.

2.3 These figures indicate that relationship breakdown may cause hosting arrangements to end and – importantly – put sponsors off hosting future guests. We therefore need to take seriously the reporting by previous sponsors of friction with guests (40% in 2022; 20% in 2023) and challenging cultural differences (only reported in 2023 data, 28%).

2.4 Our data from Post-Socialist Britain, provides insight into the everyday experience of cultural differences, which can be overwhelming. As one Ukrainian participant described it: “we have good hosts, they are good people, decent, but we live together, in the same house, and we use the same kitchen, this very strongly emphasizes how different our mentality and values are.” One of our Post-Socialist Britain participants described modifying her behaviour to avoid friction due to the fear of eviction: “I try to be friends with the hosts [..] because it is necessary to live this time so that they do not evict me because there are many situations when Ukrainians are evicted by hosts because they do not agree in some topics”.

2.5 Our research indicates that one reason for a breakdown in relationships and cultural misunderstandings is the impact of negative stereotypes about Eastern Europe as “backwards” and underdeveloped. Several of our participants describe experiences in which hosts and other British people they encounter in their day-to-day lives make assumptions about their familiarity with basic technology (e.g., microwaves or fridges) and level of education. Some hosts appear to conceive of Ukraine as – in the words of our participants – “a Third World country”.

B. Xenophobia and Discrimination

3.1.   Previous research shows that this kind of stereotyping of the East of Europe – known as “Eastern Europeanism” – impacts the lives of migrants from the region in multiple ways, including a lack of recognition of qualifications (and resulting need to downskill), playground bullying and even hate crime. Our report Support for Displaced Ukrainians (published March 2023) outlines the impact of Eastern Europeanism on displaced Ukrainians in the areas of housing, work/benefits, and healthcare.

3.2.   The April 2023 ONS survey with Ukrainian visa holders (published since Support for Displaced Ukrainians) further supports our findings around “downskilling” (working below one’s qualification level): 24% of Ukrainians who have had to change employment sectors in the UK (68% of those employed) state that that the reason was a lack of recognition of their qualifications. One of the Post-Socialist Britain participants describes it as being cheap labour for the English at the moment”.

3.3.   The most recent ONS survey with hosts adds a further dimension to the findings of Support for Displaced Ukrainians: 31% of current hosts who have supported guests to find private rented accommodation note that guests experienced bias or discrimination from landlords or estate agencies. This is supported by our conversations with Ukrainians and indicates that “Eastern Europeanism” can also contribute to the risk of homelessness identified by the National Audit Report. One of the participants in Post-Socialist Britain says: “the problem for us as refugees with rental housing is that they don’t want to let to us, and this is an endless vicious circle”.

3.4.   There is also some evidence of violent xenophobia against Ukrainians. One 19-year-old participant in the Futures of Ukraine project recounted that he and his friends (also displaced Ukrainians) were attacked by a group of local young males. The main reason for the attack was that the participant and his friends were speaking Russian and Ukrainian. The police stopped the immediate threat, but the participant no longer feels safe and reported that he has since been followed by some of his abusers.

3.5.   According to the most recent ONS data, 25% of all hosts would have found more information on Ukraine and Ukrainian culture helpful. We recommend that guidance for hosts and training for those mediating between sponsors and guests, or supporting Ukrainians to access accommodation and employment, include such information, developed with Ukrainians and Ukrainian experts. This should incorporate training for hosts on recognising and challenging negative stereotypes associated with Central and Eastern Europe.

3.6.   Ukrainians should be provided with information regarding their rights to protection against discrimination (the Equality Act 2010) and against hate speech and xenophobic attacks (Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020), including guidance on where they can seek help in such situations. Local police should be made aware of the potential for Eastern Europeanism to manifest as hate speech and violent xenophobia.


C. Visa Status and Risks to Return

4.1.   A key challenge expressed by our participants in both Post-Socialist Britain and Futures of Ukraine is uncertainty around what will happen to the visa scheme once the initial three-year period comes to an end. This uncertainty makes it difficult for visa holders to plan for the future and to integrate fully into life in the UK. As one of our Post-Socialist Britain participants puts it: “Nothing is clear, nothing is known, we just live for today. We live for today, but we are trying to somehow plan for the future.[…] Here you can't live. We somehow survive.”

4.2.   The most recent data suggests only 28% are certain they would return to Ukraine were it safe to do so. The most frequently cited concerns are lack of employment and other difficulties in resettling. Ukrainians cannot be expected to return immediately even when the conflict comes to an end. One of the Post-Socialist Britain participants noted,for some, this is the absence of a place where you can simply return: the physical absence of houses, apartments where people lived. Accordingly, there is already a lack of work, because many enterprises have been destroyed, and [we don’t know] when they will be restored; another expressed concern that “they [returnees] will all return from the war to another country, not the one from which we all left […] And the psyche of each of us... it is already broken, and it will be very difficult”.

4.3.   Two categories of displaced Ukrainians are at higher risk than others if they return to Ukraine while the conflict is ongoing: males and people from the occupied territories of Ukraine. All males between 18 and 60 years old are eligible for conscription in Ukraine (with a few health or work-related exceptions). Many men and transgender women (gender is often not reassigned in official documents in Ukraine) do not want to go back to Ukraine because of forced recruitment to the army: once in Ukraine, they may not be allowed to leave. Our conversations in the framework of the Futures of Ukraine project showed that some families only left Ukraine because their sons were about to turn 18 and they wanted to avoid conscription. Forced recruitment of adults is not contrary to international law; however, it can still be considered a form of gender-based violence, which leads thousands of people to leave Ukraine through irregular routes.

4.4.   During 2022 alone, over 149,000 residential buildings, 3,000 educational buildings, and a huge amount of transport and civil infrastructure have been destroyed in Ukraine due to the war, especially in occupied territories and in areas of active bombing. With over 3.6 million internally displaced people in Ukraine and already overwhelmed housing, education and welfare sectors, returnees, who have already lost their homes due to the war, may face marginalisation and increased vulnerabilities. 

4.5.   Some of the returnees might face issues related to language integration. While there is a growing number of people speaking Ukrainian since 2022, and bilingualism is widespread in Ukraine, the language can be an issue for some representatives of ethnic minorities such as Roma, Hungarians, and Russian-speaking people from the Eastern part of the country, including occupied territories. Some individuals might not have enough proficiency to receive higher education or pass some professional exams in Ukrainian. One young participant in the Futures of Ukraine study is from Mariupol. They noted: I still have problems with Ukrainian language, as I do not know it very well. It will be difficult for me to study there. At the same time, they are fluent in English and study in a college in the UK. Secondary and Higher Education in Ukraine is conducted predominantly in the Ukrainian language. One of the leading Ukrainian universities, Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, banned the Russian language from speaking it on its territory. The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology data demonstrates that 36 % of the population have xenophobic attitudes towards Ukrainian citizens with Russian ethnicity, and 14 % have xenophobic attitudes towards Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens.

4.6.   The Futures of Ukraine project shows that while some young people already have a strategy to stay in the UK after the Homes for Ukraine visa expires (e.g., applying for a student visa), many still find themselves in limbo. Some who do not have alternative plans are those who still study at school and those who work in low-paid jobs that will not qualify them for a visa on an ordinary route for leave to remain. As a result, if the Homes for Ukraine scheme is not extended, there is a risk that some displaced Ukrainians (especially men) will remain in the UK with irregular status. That, in turn, will limit their opportunities to access work, healthcare and education, and lead to further marginalisation and social exclusion.

4.7.   It would be beneficial to elaborate a program of re-integration of returnees together with Ukraine’s government to ensure that effective pre-departure Ukrainian language training is available and all necessary resources regarding access to social welfare and housing are in place. 

4.8.   We would recommend that the government take decisions on extensions to the scheme as soon as possible to support the mental well-being and integration of displaced Ukrainians. This would include making clear the routes to staying in the UK in the longer term. The extension of the scheme will also enable young Ukrainians to continue their education in the UK and join the UK labour market.

November 2023