Ministers are considering proposed changes to the supports on offer for people fleeing the war in Ukraine. Almost two years on from Russia’s invasion there appears to be no end in sight to the war.
With Ireland’s system for accommodating refugees under severe pressure, the Government here has some difficult decisions to make on the assistance Ireland offers to people fleeing from Ukraine.
Q: How many people have fled to Ireland from Ukraine and where are they living?
A: More than 100,000 Ukrainians have come to Ireland since the war started in February 2022. Many of the refugees are elderly or women with children. Around 15,000 are working and another 15,000 are children attending schools. More than 73,700 are in accommodation provided by the state whether it is in hotels, state-owned buildings or new modular homes.
The remainder have sourced their own housing. Accommodation has become increasingly difficult to find amid the ongoing housing crisis. There is additional pressure due to an increase in asylum seekers from other countries, some 25,800 of which are being housed by the State.
Q: What are the changes to the supports and why are they under consideration?
A: Proposals under consideration include cutting welfare benefits. There would no longer be an automatic entitlement to the €220 per week jobseekers’ allowance. Instead people who are living in accommodation provided by the State would be given €38.80 per week, the sum currently paid to asylum seekers.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Monday: “The change, if we make it, will be saying that we can’t promise you accommodation indefinitely, but while we do provide you accommodation, you won’t receive the full amount of social welfare because generally speaking somebody who is receiving social welfare would have to pay rent and would have to pay for their food and utilities”.
Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman has also proposed limiting State-provided accommodation to 90 days before people would be asked to find their own housing. The changes would not apply to Ukrainians who are already in Ireland but would affect new arrivals. There is a view in Government that the support on offer in Ireland is more generous than other western European countries.
The intention of the changes is to ensure Ireland does not offer an additional pull factor for Ukrainian refugees, particularly those who initially fled to other countries before coming to Ireland, so-called secondary movements.
Q: When will the changes be made?
A: There is no final agreement on the plans as yet but there was a belief among some in Government the proposals could make it on to the agenda as early as Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. However, Mr Varadkar also indicated that it could be next week before the final plans go to Cabinet. There was a something of a row when proposals were first discussed by Cabinet in October, with concerns from Fianna Fáil ministers that the 90-day limit on state accommodation would move responsibility for the issue to the Department of Housing which would have to provide housing or homeless services. Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Mr Varadkar have since downplayed suggestions of any major dispute.
Government officials have spent the last seven weeks working on the issues involved and the proposals were discussed by ministers at a Cabinet committee meeting on Ukraine on Monday. There was an expectation that the plans would be considered by the Coalition leaders later in the evening before potentially being discussed by the full Cabinet on Tuesday. Bringing in the changes would require legislation to be passed by the Oireachtas and it would be the new year before this would happen.
Q: How have the proposals been received outside Government?
A: Nick Henderson, the chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council said: “We strongly warn against the 90-day limit because the vast majority of people would find it difficult, if not impossible, to find accommodation to move to.”
He also said: “These policies seem to be putting short-term deterrence over long-term planning. This war is, unfortunately, not going away and people are beginning to build their lives here.”
Q: What is the Government saying?:
A: Mr Varadkar said on Monday that no final decision has been taken yet. He said he is proud of how Ireland has been able to welcome 100,000 people from Ukraine adding that those fleeing the war will “remain welcome”.
Mr Varadkar also said: “We are going to have to adjust what we offer in terms of social welfare and state accommodation in order to bring it more into line what other western European countries are doing.”