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Gypsy and Traveller concerns raised in parliament

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.’

For more information please read the interim report A Big or Divided Society?

(Source: IRR website, please follow link for more information: Institute of Race Relations)