Law Centre NI welcomes a change to legislation which will ensure that the Sure Start Maternity Grant is now available to Ukrainian and Afghan refugees in Northern Ireland who have children born before coming to the UK (‘pre-flight’ children).
A Sure Start Maternity Grant is a one-off payment of £500 to help with the cost of maternity expenses and baby items – financial support which would be crucial for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees who have had to flee their homes in the most difficult circumstances.
However, the ‘refugee exception’ rule in the Sure Start Maternity Grant regulations did not apply to families from Ukraine and Afghanistan because they are not granted typical refugee status, meaning that they were not entitled to the grant when they arrived in Northern Ireland.
At the Law Centre, we continue to provide advice and support to families from Ukraine and Afghanistan, highlighting injustice and advocating for positive change.
As a result of our work with Ukrainian and Afghan refugees, we identified this unfairness within the Sure Start Maternity Grant regulations. We raised our concerns with the Department for Communities (DfC) and recommended that it extend the ‘refugee exception’ rule to include people from Ukraine and Afghanistan.
As a result of our intervention in Northern Ireland – and following changes adopted by the Department for Work and Pensions – we are pleased that DfC has agreed to make the necessary legislative changes to the Sure Start Maternity Grant to ensure that refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan will be eligible. The change – which comes into force today – will also ensure that any Ukrainian or Afghan family who would have been entitled to the grant since arriving in the UK will now receive it.
Liz Griffith, Head of Policy and Research at Law Centre NI, said: “Families fleeing Ukraine and Afghanistan do so under extremely difficult circumstances, travelling with few possessions. The families that we support are often traumatised, having had to leave their homes, families and belongings behind. We are really pleased that these new regulations recognise this reality for people escaping Afghanistan and Ukraine and that the Sure Start Maternity Grant will be available to help them to settle in Northern Ireland.”