‘I don’t know how we will survive’ – Ukrainians on the changes to Irish welfare benefits

War refugees from Ukraine want to work in order to pay their way but one woman fears the financial impact from changes in State payments

Yuliia Arliukova fled war-torn Ukraine with her two children almost a year ago.

She lives in an apartment in Limerick shared with other displaced families, having previously lived in emergency accommodation in Cork.

While the native of the frontline city of Kherson is grateful for the accommodation, she worries about how her family will manage under reduced State benefits.

Under proposals signed off by Cabinet on Tuesday, Ukrainian refugees would no longer have 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. It will revert to the higher rate when they leave the accommodation centres.

There will also be a 90-day limit on stays in State-provided accommodation. None of the changes, to be in effect by the end of January, will affect the more than 100,000 people from Ukraine who are already in Ireland.

“When I heard this news, it was stressful. I don’t know how we will survive then. Because it is very difficult. We have nowhere to return to. Half of Kherson is destroyed now and I don’t want my children to live in war,” she said.

With one child in school and the other starting college, expenses are high and she is concerned about the impact of the lower benefits.

Yuliia believes that the higher €220 per week for adults would benefit a family of three adults, giving them €660 a week, more than double what her family of one adult and two children would receive.

“It is a decent amount of money and it does not encourage them to find a job,” she said.

A trained fashion designer, Yuliia is retraining and taking culinary courses, hoping to find work. But with a daughter suffering from trauma, she feels that staying home to support her children’s wellbeing takes priority for now.

The job search poses difficulties, as Yuliia is still improving her English skills.

Myroslav, a 35-year-old university lecturer, arrived into the country just over two months ago with his 10-year-old son from the city of Uzhhorod.

While benefit cuts loom, Myroslav hopes that he won’t stay on social welfare for a long time and will return to employment.

“It won’t affect me because I’m planning to find work. I’m here with my 10-year-old son who is diabetic, so I’m planning to work as a regular citizen. To be honest, this was expected,” he said.

He thinks politics is driving the changes.

“I think that soon elections can also affect governmental decisions on refugees and I find it normal,” he said.

Living in temporary State housing near Cork at the moment, Myroslav searches daily for work and hopes to lecture and research again someday.

“I hope to move to Dublin and work at the university there,” he said.

The Ukraine Civil Society Forum, a collective of 92 civil society and community groups seeking to co-ordinate the settlement of Ukrainians, said the State’s emergency response to the war was “commendable” but must be matched with longer term accommodation options.

“These policies seem to be putting short term deterrence over long term planning with substantial detrimental consequences for real people who have already lost so much and face a very uncertain future,” it said in a statement.

The forum said the 90 day limit on accommodation is “impractical” as there is “no functioning or affordable rental market in Ireland”.

“The impact of this additional insecurity on children in particular is not to be underestimated. Realistically, are we going to make hundreds of children street-homeless every month,” it said.

The forum added that the proposals deflect from the “real issue” of a shortage of long term accommodation.

Myroslav hope to move on from State accommodation soon.

“The plan is to find hosts as soon as possible and move there with them. I would like to get into a more English-speaking environment so my son can learn the language faster,” he said.

“Further, when I start working, I’ll start renting. Long-term plans include a mortgage”.