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Maureen Seguin

I am a Sociologist with an interest in the mental health impacts of war and displacement. I am particularly interested in protective factors against poor mental health, such as coping strategies. I have typically used theory-driven approaches, drawing particularly on Strong Structuration Theory.  

Award Title: Mental Health Fellowship

Start Date: 1st January 2023

End Date: 31st March 2024

Location of Research: London, Manchester and Liverpool  

Project Title: Impact of access to housing on mental health and coping amongst Ukrainian refugees in the UK   

Brief Summary: 

In March 2022, the UK launched the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme, which allows Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK and live with UK families for at least 6 months. Though this scheme provides short-term housing, it does not solve the issue of longer-term housing for these (mainly female) refugees. As the war shows no signs of slowing down, it is unlikely that Ukrainian refugees will return to Ukraine soon. From September 2022 onwards, these refugees will need to move to new housing arrangements.  

Ukrainian refugees are eligible for housing support from local councils and are legally able to rent in the private rental sector. However, there are problems with these options. The language barrier makes it difficult to navigate council bureaucracy, making it difficult for refugees to understand what council housing is available. Because of the pervasive shortage of council flats, to avoid homelessness they will likely be placed in hostels or hotel rooms without cooking facilities or sufficient space for children. As many face barriers finding jobs due to the language barrier and lack of recognition of professional credentials, affording rent in the private sector is challenging. Many will rely on universal credit, making them undesirable renters to landlords. Other barriers such as large deposits and a lack of UK work history makes renting difficult. 

Ukrainian refugees have reported extremely high levels of stress and poor mental well-being because of these current and anticipated challenges. Nonetheless, they are using coping strategies, such as seeking support from others and keeping busy at volunteer centres. Discussions with these refugees have directed the aim of this research: to explore Ukrainian refugees’ access to housing in the UK and the mental health consequences and coping responses. We are also interested in whether barriers to housing lead to issues in other areas, such as access to healthcare, education, and jobs. Finally, we want to know their views on the best ways to support their mental health and coping. To address these research objectives, we will conduct interviews with refugee women and staff at organisations helping them. 

Methods: I am conducting semi-structured interviews with refugees (n=30) and stakeholders (n=10) in 3 sites in the UK: London, Greater Manchester and Liverpool. 

Benefits anticipated: 

Though this project focuses exclusively on Ukrainian refugees, findings on coping and mental health may be applicable to other refugee groups in the UK and other high-income settings. This topic will only become more critical as the number of persons displaced by war (including refugees and internally displaced persons) continues to climb from an estimated 38.54 million in 2011 to 89.32 million at the end of 2021. The predicted millions of future refugees fleeing disaster and conflict due to climate change will add even more urgency to this line of research.   

Beyond the empirical findings, the theoretical approach taken for this project may be usefully applied elsewhere. Insights may inform future research not only on refugees and other forcibly-displaced groups, but in any public health research seeking to explore the recursive relationship between individual agency/actions and the wider societal environment.