Councils across the UK have said they are happy to provide accommodation for people fleeing Afghanistan but say they do not have sufficient housing stock to welcome all the new arrivals.
Steve Cowan, the leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council in west London, which has accepted many refugees in resettlement schemes over the years, said councils that volunteered to support the new arrivals should not be expected to do so to the detriment of residents on council home waiting lists. Instead, the government should offer a comprehensive scheme that works across various departments to meet all their housing and other needs.
Cowan said: “Councils like ours stand by ready to assist Afghan refugees and are already doing so but we need the government to come forward with a comprehensive scheme that joins up the approach across government departments providing sufficient financial and organisational support.”
There are three different routes for Afghans escaping the conflict: claiming asylum, the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) – for people employed by or linked to the British government in Afghanistan – and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, which has not yet started.
While the funding streams are separate, Afghans in all three groups will have similar needs in the different local authority areas they are accommodated in.
Although central government provides funding for accommodation, there are also costs to ensure that local health, education, housing, and social care services can step up and provide the services needed by the new arrivals.
Councils have questioned whether the £5m fund for Arap housing costs, which will include rental at £15 a person per night for up to four months, or until benefits are in place, will be sufficient. They have called for this support to last for five years rather than 12 months.
A fund has been earmarked to provide local authorities with a top-up grant to fund any rent shortfall where a family is affected by the benefit cap.
Some councils said the costs of the Syrian refugee resettlement scheme “were far from covered”, especially given the impact on local services.
Fleur Anderson, the MP for Putney in Wandsworth, south London, who is trying to help about 130 UK Afghan constituents get family members out of Afghanistan, has urged the government to ensure the Afghan scheme works more quickly than the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme that she was involved with.
“In that scheme many Syrians were left in camps in Jordan for years,” she said.
She warned that if safe routes for fleeing Afghans were not organised quickly, they would choose unsafe routes and that although the fast-moving nature of the situation was understood, more clarity from government was needed.
“Not only accommodation but also community support is needed as soon as possible,” she said.
Cowan said: “The £5m housing fund the government has offered all councils will be insufficient to meet the difference between rent prices and the benefit cap. That should be increased and apply for five years rather than the current one year if we’re to get private landlords to take on the necessary tenancies.
“Sufficient funding for healthcare, integration, education support, and employment training needs to be part of the scheme. It needs to recognise the pressures already felt in local communities relying on services or needing affordable housing.”
The government says additional healthcare provision, access to Covid-19 vaccinations and funding for housing will be provided to support Afghans coming to the UK via the Arap scheme.