Gypsy and Traveller concerns raised in parliament

Gypsy and Traveller concerns raised in parliament


Written by: Harmit Athwal

A group of academics, lawyers and campaigners has produced a report on the coalition government’s policy on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.

The report, A Big or Divided Society is based on hearings which took place earlier this year in parliament where Gypsies, Travellers, service providers, legal and academic experts gave evidence on the implications of proposed government policy. The hearings were organised around the themes of accommodation planning, enforcement, health, children, welfare and education issues related to accommodation. And highlighted concerns including:

  • The fact that removal of central government obligations for Traveller sites to be developed would see site construction come to a standstill;
  • That local referenda could be used to block the construction of Traveller sites;
  • That Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities could be prevented from becoming part of the Big Society because of negative media coverage and the lack of constituted community groups;
  • That key health and education services for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers were being threatened by the cuts.

The hearings, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, heard from evidence from a number of individuals and groups including the Traveller Law Reform Project, London Gypsy & Traveller Unit, National Association of Gypsy & Traveller Officers, National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, The Gypsy Council, Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, Friends Families and Travellers, Children’s Society Children’s Gypsy & Traveller Children’s Project, the Church Action Network for Gypsies and Travellers and the Roma Support Group.[1] The panel was composed of a number of key experts in the field and included Dr Jo Richardson (De Montfort University), Lord Avebury, David Joyce (Barrister), Professor Acton, Dr Andrew Ryder (Budapest (CUP) University), Sir Brian Briscoe (former chair Task Group on Site Provision and Enforcement for Gypsies & Travellers), Dr Margaret Greenfields (Bucks New University), Dr Sarah Cemlyn (Bristol University) and Dr Patrice Van Cleemput (University of Sheffield).[2]

Lord Avebury told IRR News: ‘Eric Pickles, the minister responsible for Gypsies and Travellers, has torn up the strategy that had been developed over the last six years of the previous government, riding roughshod over Liberal Democrat policy of keeping the target numbers of pitches. Now, it’s up to every local authority to decide how much land it will allocate for Gypsy sites and, inevitably, most of them will scale down the numbers or eliminate them altogether as in the case of London. At the same time they are encouraging local authorities to evict Gypsies from unauthorised sites at enormous cost in bailiffs and police. And the pupil premium, intended to help disadvantaged children, will leave out many Gypsy children who don’t attend school because their families have been evicted and they’re on the roadside.’

Susan Alexander of the Travellers Aid Trust commented: ‘For a number of years there have been sustained efforts by politicians and councils across the political spectrum to work in partnership with Gypsy Roma Traveller communities and improve their access to services, make them part of the community and reduce tensions. However, genuine fears are expressed in the report that the Localism Bill currently passing through parliament could mean greater local opposition to sites and services for this minority and run counter to the ideals of a Big Society.’

Related links

Download the report A Big or Divided Society? here (pdf file, 660kb)

Travellers Aid Trust

Irish Traveller Movement in Britain

The Traveller Law Reform Project

Irish Traveller Movement in Britain

The Gypsy Council

Travellers’ Times

Friends, Families & Travellers (FFT)

Read an IRR News story: ‘Gypsies’ big fat struggle for justice’

Read an IRR News story: ‘Open hostility to Gypsies and Travellers’

[1] Full list of witnesses: Steve Staines (Traveller Law Reform Project), Frieda Schicker & Helena Kiely (London Gypsy & Traveller Unit), Chris Johnson (Community Law Partnership), Marc Willers (barrister), Annette Warren & Bill Forrester (National Association of Gypsy & Traveller Officers), Siobhan Spencer, Sally Woodbury & Roger Yarwood (National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups), Joanna & David Price, Tom McCready (Gypsies), Tony Thomson & Abbie Kirby (new Travellers), Candy Sheridan & Joe Jones (The Gypsy Council), Sir Al Aynsley-Green (Former Children's Commissioner, Emeritus Professor UCL), Matthew Brindley (Irish Traveller Movement in Britain), Chris Whitwell (Friends Families and Travellers), Bridget McCarthy (Irish Traveller), Linda Lewins (METAS Bucks), Kath Cresswell (Bolton TES), Brian Foster (Irish Traveller Movement in Britain), Lucy Becket (Traveller Law Reform Project), Debbie Harvey (Children's Society Children's Gypsy & Traveller Children's Project), Simon Rushton (New Traveller), Rev Redding (The Church Action Network for Gypsies and Travellers), Father Jo Brown (The Catholic Irish Traveller Chaplaincy), Councillor Frank Thomas & Chris Borg (National Association of Local Councils), Dada Felja & Professor T. Acton (Roma Support Group). [2] Full list of panel: Dr Jo Richardson (De Montfort University), Rory Stewart MP, Lord Avebury, Lord Boswell, David Joyce (Barrister), Professor Acton, Dr Andrew Ryder (Budapest (CUP) University), Sir Brian Briscoe (former chair Task Group on Site Provision and Enforcement for Gypsies & Travellers), Councillor Richard Bennett (Local Government Association), Dr Margaret Greenfields (Bucks New University), Dr Sarah Cemlyn (Bristol University), Baroness Whitaker, Dr David Smith, Lord Avebury, Dr Patrice Van Cleemput (University of Sheffield). For more information on the Travellers Aid Trust and to download a copy of the full report visit their website.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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