‘Home office money available to support children fleeing war’

Westminster councillor confident of meeting the needs of Ukraine youngsters

Friday, 8th April — By Tom Foot

timothy barnes

Cllr Tim Barnes

THE city council cabinet member for young people and learning says he is quietly confident of meeting the needs of Ukraine children after lessons were learned from the Afghanistan refugee crisis.

Westminster councillor Tim Barnes told a schools policy meeting the number of refugees from the war who were being taken in by Westminster residents was currently “in the tens” and full funding had been made available by the home office to support them.

Councils are tasked with vetting households before refugees move in and this had been a problem when those arrived from Afghanistan last summer.

Cllr Barnes said: “Somewhat against the more cynical nature that many have, I would say the home office has learned a lot since Afghanistan.

This time we are confident we will have the financial resources to do the checks that we need. We will be checking on the suitability of homes… and other elements. We are receiving the funds to do that.”

The number of children was low comparared with other boroughs, he said, and added: “In no sense am I sounding blasé, but we are seeing fewer children. People in Westminster do not have as many spare rooms, and so it is harder to take in families with children.”

Across the country there had been 31,000 applications to take in Ukraine families and, of those, 22,000 had been “matched”, he said:

“About 1 per cent of those will be in Westminster. We don’t know how many have yet arrived… it would be in the tens.”

The city council is confident about finding school places for refugee children because of falling rolls across the borough.

On the Afghans, Cllr Barnes said: “All of the young people are now in schools, in Westminster or in Kensington & Chelsea.”

The city council had gone “above and beyond the bare minimum” for the Afghanistan refugees moving out of London by giving them folders with official information “so they could pass it on to schools and not go through that process again. It was an exceptional effort,” he said.

• The meeting also heard how primary schools had been hit by a sudden and significant reduction in SEN, special educational needs, funding “at minimal notice” that was “going to have a really significant impact on schools that are already struggling”.

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