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The Bristol Cable

Government ‘comprehensively failed’ Gypsies and Travellers, report finds

They have the worst outcomes out of all the ethnicities in the UK.

Moving on: Bristol's Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

They have the worst outcomes out of all the ethnicities in the UK.

Photo: Phillipa Klaiber

The government has ‘comprehensively failed’ Gypsies, Roma and Travellers (GRT), a report from the Commons women and equalities committee has found.

The report comes after a two-year inquiry into the inequalities faced by the UK’s GRT communities, which found they have the worst outcomes of any ethnic group across many areas, including education, health, employment, accommodation, criminal justice and hate crime. The committee said very little is being done to tackle the long-standing inequalities

“Our inquiry has found that, while many inequalities have existed for a long time, there has been a persistent failure by both national and local policy-makers to tackle them in any sustained way,” the report said. “This failure has led to services that are ill-equipped to support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people to use services that they need and are entitled to.”

Alex Raikes, Strategic Director of Bristol anti-racism charity Stand Against Racism & Inequality (SARI)welcomed the report.

“It is affirmation for our own work in this region in taking the voice of the GRT communities who are currently absent from the problem solving for these communities,” she said.

She has previously told the Cable that there is not enough being done about inequalities faced by Bristol’s Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, and that Bristol needs multi-agency working and a funded voluntary organisation specifically dedicated to GRT communities, offering advocacy, legal advice, specialist support and outreach.

“We need to build platforms for these communities so they can have a say in the solutions that are needed to address some of the worst outcomes for any of our communities.”

Helen Jones, CEO of GRT charity LeedsGATE, said that the organisation “certainly recognises the dire picture of failure, ineffectiveness and inefficiency stemming from government policy and action, or lack of action, which it paints. One can only hope that the report provides the necessary prompt for the government to take an honest and open look at its failings and to initiate significant, sustained and joined up, cross departmental effort to amend.”

More concerned with cracking down on encampments than dealing with issues

As most Gypsies and Travellers live in bricks and mortar, the report found the government’s focus on accommodation disproportionate. “Given that three in four Gypsies and Travellers live in non-caravan accommodation, we are deeply concerned that government policy-making is overwhelmingly focused on planning and accommodation issues.”

GRT activists and advocacy groups have been saying for years that the government is more concerned with cracking down on unauthorised encampments than dealing with the accommodation problems that are behind them. They’ve been increasingly hardening legislation towards Travellers over the years

Ever since the Conservatives took away councils’ duty to provide Traveller sites in 1994, site provision has inevitably dropped off. The lack of provision, coupled with the difficulty Gypsies and Travellers have in getting planning permission to build on their own land and increasingly tougher legislation, including the use of injunctions to push them out of entire boroughs, has caused GRT communities to ask: “Where are we meant to go?”

A recent announcement that the government plans to crack down further by increasing police enforcement powers and potentially criminalising trespass was received with alarm. Traveller advocacy groups called the plans, the language used in the announcement, and the fact it is aimed exclusively at Gypsies and Travellers, inflammatory, scapegoating and racially motivated.

It came around the same time that MP Andrew Selous put forward a Bill to ‘help Travellers integrate’ by moving them off sites and into houses. Raikes told the Cable this would “mean even worse outcomes for a community that already has the worst outcomes in so many aspects of life.

Recommendations

The Committee made 49 recommendations to the government across all areas of inequality, including introducing a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ‘champion’ for each public body and for local authorities to ensure that they have adequate policies in place for dealing with children missing from education.

They also made recommendations to address the gap in data, which often means that GRT needs are missed. They’re currently not included on the NHS data dictionary and are also missing from some government data sets. The last census was the first time Gypsy and Irish Traveller were included as ethnicities in the census and Roma will be included for the first time in the next census.

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