Giving children the best possible start in life - Refugee Council
March 31, 2023

Giving children the best possible start in life

In this blog, our Senior Policy Analyst Kama Petruczenko shares good news about access to the Sure Start Maternity Grant for refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan.


The early years of a child’s life are critical to their development. Families often need extra help when a new baby arrives. The families we support have often endured and witnessed unimaginable horrors and they need help settling in the UK and rebuilding their lives. Like all parents, they hope their children will have a better, brighter future and can realise their dreams.

Unfortunately, refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine, who arrived in the UK with a child or children, after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, did not have access to all forms of support that families with babies can rely on. Specifically, they could not access the Sure Start Maternity Grant (SSMG), a welfare benefit that provides families on a low income with a one-off payment of £500 to help with the costs of having a child. This is because claimants will usually only get SSMG if the new baby is the only child under 16 in the household. Although refugees are exempt from this ‘first child only’ rule, families who arrived from Afghanistan and Ukraine with a child or children, were excluded from the SSMG because refugee concession did not apply to them, as the UK Government did not formally recognise them as refugees.

It is important to remember that the families we support through our services across the country had to leave their homes, everything and everyone they know and love in a rush. They could only take with them the most essential items and often not even that – we all remember the images of packed planes departing from Kabul airport. We know that families and children were missing out on this vital support, even more so given they usually have no family or support networks they can rely on for help.

Using evidence from our services and working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), we have good news to share. The government, has agreed to extend the exemption to the SSMG ‘first child only’ rule  to families who have fled from Afghanistan and Ukraine as a consequence of the Taliban takeover and the Russian invasion, in recognition of their special status and needs.


  • Effective from February 2023, refugee families with a child or children from Afghanistan and Ukraine who apply for SSMG and meet other eligibility criteria will be awarded the benefit payment.
  • Cases of those who applied before February 2023 have been reviewed by the DWP, and SSMG payments will be awarded retrospectively, as long as they met the eligibility criteria.

The website has been updated accordingly to reflect these changes.

We are pleased to have worked with colleagues at the DWP on this small but important change that is making a huge difference to the refugees we support.

When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, many Afghans found safety in the UK

Afghan refugees in the UK

Stories from Afghan evacuees
When Russia invaded Ukraine, many Ukrainians came to the UK

Ukrainian refugees in the UK

Stories from Ukrainian refugees