Homes for Ukraine host Olly Tagg (right) set up Mobiles4Ukraine to give Maryna Yakubovska and other Ukrainian refugees a job. Image: Olly Tagg
A businessman who took in a family from Ukraine has launched a new venture employing refugees as a way to give them independence and tackle rising homelesness.
It’s been six months since the Homes for Ukraine scheme launched and in that time the number of refugees who have faced losing their home has increased steadily.
Last week official figures revealed more than 1,500 Ukraine refugee households required support from councils in England for homelessness between February 24 and August 26.
Maryna Yakubovska, 40, arrived in the UK alongside children Nazar, 15, and Damian, 10, from the city of Irpin – 15 miles from Ukraine capital Kyiv – six months ago and the trio have been staying in the village of Denton near Grantham, Lincolnshire.
The family’s sponsor Olly Tagg, 52, told the Big Issue she has struggled to find work due to the language barrier and the rural area where she has been placed.
So he has set up Mobiles4Ukraine – a mobile refurbishment company for Maryna to run with the aim of employing other Ukrainians to earn enough money to live independently.
“The thing that worries me the most is Maryna and her two kids are completely dependent on us and, to a lesser extent, the state,” said Tagg.
“She’s getting universal credit and so on but because of the language restrictions and the transportation restrictions it’s difficult for her to get a job that is sufficiently well paid for her to become independent. They want their own place and they want to have a degree of independence away from me, as much as we get on great. It’s a temporary measure.
“Most of the Ukrainians I met, I fear, are going to be here for the next year, two years, three years. It’s a strain for a lot of people hosting Ukrainians but it’s also a strain for Ukrainians being hosted. There is a finite amount of time for a lot of people to be able to do it and manage the costs associated with it.”
Tagg, who retired recently after running a similar business, told the Big Issue the not-for-profit company is aiming to train up Ukrainian women in refurbishing phones before selling them on to cover wages.
The earnings will also go toward rebuilding two schools destroyed by Russian attacks in Irpin.
Tagg is hoping the model can also support other marginalised groups including refugees from Afghanistan.
“We’re trying to provide employment at a reasonable salary level – around 25 grand – which would be sufficient for them to rent their own property to be able to pay for their own needs. They need that sense of community but they also need reasonably well-paid, flexible job,” said Tagg.
“I’m hoping it will be a slow grower, but I’m hoping that we can get up to sort of 10-15-20,000 pounds a month, which would then give us sufficient volumes and sufficient value in the business to be able to employ maybe five to 10 people.”
Yakubovska will not only be the company’s first employee, she will also be tasked with running the business.
She told the Big Issue she feels “lucky” to have the pathway into work that not all Ukrainians can rely on.
“With the beginning of the war, I had to leave everything I loved, had and knew. Now I am starting my life anew, in a foreign country and with foreign people,” said Yakubovska, who worked in a coffee shop in Irpin as well as doing accounts and administration for her husband’s flooring firm.
“My children and I were lucky to get into a good family that supports and helps us in every way. My children go to school and now I have the opportunity to start working.
“When I arrived in Britain at the end of March, the scheme was just starting to work, there was little information. Now everything is working better. But for me, everything is subjective: I have a good coach at the job centre, friends who help me fill out the papers, at meetings at the job centre or in matters with the school. But, unfortunately, not all Ukrainians have such support.”
With a quarter of households who sponsored Ukrainian families to live in the UK telling the Office for National Statistics they do not wish to carry on beyond six months, there are fears more will end up without a home. In fact, 50,000 Ukrainian refugees could be homeless by next year, according to Barnardo’s, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who issued a warning to the government last month.
“Our concern now is impending homelessness. Without a viable system in place, Homes for Ukraine will inevitably result in rising numbers of homelessness amongst Ukrainians,” said Robina Qureshi, chief executive of Positive Action in Housing, who criticised the Westminster government for failing to consult refugee experts when setting up its two Ukrainian resettlement schemes.
“The cost of living is one factor, but the absence of a viable assessment, matching and host management system means a significant number of hosting arrangements end abruptly and suddenly, with hosts feeling the strain and having no support system to extend hosting.
“It is unrealistic to assume that Ukrainian refugees will move on to new accommodations when there are pre-existing housing shortages and homelessness across the country. Rent deposits are also prohibitively expensive.”
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.