Friday, February 09, 2007

Gypsies and Travellers - The Facts

There are not enough authorised sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers
  • Local authorities used to have a legal duty to provide sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers. In 1994 this obligation was removed following the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act and, as a result, and along with a change in the use of land and more land being identified for housing, there are now too few sites to accommodate all Gypsies and Irish Travellers.
  • The lack of permanent and transit sites throughout the country has forced Travellers to camp wherever they can.
The latest figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) for the number of caravans show that there are about 15,000 in the UK
  • 72% or 10,836 of these are on authorised sites (5,946 on local authority sites and 4,890 authorised private sites).
  • 28% or 4,232 are on unauthorised developments or encampments - 12% or 1,855 on unauthorised developments (where Gypsies and Irish Travellers own the land but do not have planning permission) and 16% or 2,377 on unauthorised encampments (where Gypsies and Irish Travellers do not own the land and planning consent has not been given for use as a site).
  • Since 1996 the number of caravans has remained fairly constant, but the number of caravans on unauthorised developments has increased, while those on unauthorised encampments has decreased.

The majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers, living on authorised sites or in houses, do abide by the planning laws
  • Less than a quarter of local authorities always, or often, give advice on where to buy land for Gypsy sites, and although over two-thirds give advice at the later stage on preparing planning applications, this is often not publicised.
  • Some Gypsies and Irish Travellers feel that the planning system is so weighted against them that they would stand a better chance of getting permission if they were already established on a site when their application was assessed.

Gypsies and Irish Travellers do work

  • Traditionally finding work as licensed hawkers or pedlars, basket makers, horse dealers and seasonal argricultural labourers, many Gypsies and Irish Travellers are now landscape gardeners, tarmacers, motor trade workers, scrap metal dealers, tree fellers, and so on.
  • Some are employed as teachers, academics, and health workers, while others work in the financial sector and in the sport, leisure and entertainment industries.

Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognised ethnic groups for the purposes of the Race Relations Act (1976), identified as having a shared culture, language and beliefs

  • Roma are recorded in Greece and Turkey around 1000AD and in Scotland in 1505.
  • 'Gypsy' is thought to be a derivative of Egyptian, which is what the settled population believed the Roma to be.
  • Irish Travellers have been known as a distinct group since 400AD.
    Case law established Gypsies as a recognised ethnic group in 1988 (CRE v Dutton) and Irish Travellers in England and Wales in August 2000 (O'Leary v Allied Domecq).

Gypsies and Travellers are nomadic people

  • Planning law defines Gypsies and Irish Travellers as people with a nomadic way of life.
  • Whilst this is historically true, 90% of Gypsies across the world now live in houses.
  • Some groups are highly mobile, moving on when work opportunities have been exhausted and others reside permanently in one area or only travel for several weeks or months of the year, returning to their home base for the winter months.
  • Nomadism is more prevalent in Western Europe but even here only 50% of Gypsies live in caravans.
  • Even when Gypsies and Irish Travellers live in houses their culture and heritage stays with them.
  • The romantic view of horse-drawn caravans has long since passed. Gypsies and Irish Travellers now use modern, good quality vehicles and caravans and visit districts to ply their various trades.

It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 Gypsies and Irish Travellers living in the UK

The majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers live perfectly legally in trailers (caravans) on local authority owned or privately owned sites

  • A minority live on the road-side and in unauthorised encampments as a result of too few legal sites.
  • There are also many Gypsies and Irish Travellers living in privately owned houses or in council housing.

Gypsies and Irish Travellers do pay taxes

  • All Gypsies and Irish Travellers living on a local authority or privately owned sites pay rates, rent, gas, electricity and all other associated charges, measured and charged in the same way as neighbouring houses.
  • Those living on unauthorised encampments do not pay rates, but they also dont receive services.
  • All are charged VAT on everything they buy.

The vast majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers seek to cause as little disruption to the lives of the settled community as possible

  • Although the majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers remove their rubbish before they move on, it has been found that where there has been a Traveller encampment there has, on occasion, been refuse and discarded household items left.
  • Many councils have found that it is cost effective to provide skips and portable toilets.
  • Gypsy culture is built upon strict codes of cleanliness learnt over centuries of life on the road. Concepts such as mokadi and mahrime include strict guidelines. For example, dogs are not allowed in trailers or anywhere near plates or cutlery.

There is no evidence to suggest that incidence of crime is far higher amongst Gypsies and Irish Travellers

  • Criminal justice agencies do not ethnically monitor Gypsies and Irish Travellers, so accurate statistics are not available.

Gypsies and Irish Travellers are more prone to ill-health

  • Levels of prenatal mortality, stillbirths and infant mortality are significantly higher than the national average.
  • It is estimated that, on average, Gypsy and Irish Traveller women live 12 years less than women in the general population and Gypsy and Irish Traveller men ten years less than men in the general population.

Gypsy and Irish Traveller pupils in England are the group most at risk of failure in the education system

  • In 2003, 23% of Roma Gypsy pupils and 42% of Irish Traveller pupils in England obtained five or more A*-C GCSEs, compared with an overall average of 51%. 22% of Roma Gypsy pupils and 17% of Irish Traveller pupils obtained no passes, compared with 6% on average.
  • Gypsy and Irish Traveller children, particularly those of secondary age, have much lower levels of school attendance than pupils from other groups. By Key Stage 3, it is estimated that only 15-20% of Traveller pupils are registered or regularly attend school.

Travellers are 'Europe's most hated'

Gypsies are the most hated minority in Europe despite centuries of persecution and the Holocaust, it has been claimed.

Up to half-a-million were killed by the Nazis - but their plight is often forgotten and they remain "demonised".

The comments were made by Dr James Smith of the National Holocaust Centre, where a conference on the treatment of gypsies and travellers is being held.

It is hoped the event will help promote greater understanding of both the gypsy and traveller communities in the UK.


Dr Smith said: "If we don't learn from the past, we run the risk of repeating its mistakes in the future. "Sixty years ago, after centuries of persecution, Europe's gypsies faced extermination under the Nazis, simply because of who they were.

When hysteria is whipped up against a minority by politicians and the media, people get hurt and they are getting hurt, right now - Dr James Smith

"Up to half a million were killed. Yet even after the Holocaust, gypsies remain perhaps the most hated minority in Europe."

"When hysteria is whipped up against a minority by politicians and the media, people get hurt and they are getting hurt, right now."

'Overcome problems'

Delegates are being asked: "Are these Britain's most demonised people?"

Organisers say issues covered include the Holocaust and recent media coverage of controversial traveller camps.

Among participants are National Travellers' Action Group chairman Cliff Codona, recently seen on a television documentary about travellers with Robert Kilroy-Silk.

He said: "It's important for people in the traveller community and the wider community to work together a lot more. The only way it's going to happen is through conferences of this kind taking place, and through good media coverage of what we're doing to overcome the problems."

'Memory alive'

He added: "The experience of our community during the Holocaust is often just completely overlooked, and it shouldn't be forgotten. The more that can be done by places like the Holocaust Centre to keep the memory alive and to provide education about this, especially in schools, the better the prospects for equality."

As well as negative media reports and being ostracised, the issue of attitudes to gypsies was raised during a controversial bonfire night celebration in 2003.

A caravan bearing effigies of a gypsy family and the number plate P1 KEY was burnt in Firle, East Sussex. This lead to 12 members of a bonfire society being arrested and accused of inciting racial hatred.

However, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) ruled they would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence.

The bonfire society insisted there was no racist intent behind its actions.

Does this sort of story ring bells with anyone? Someone tell me when our bombing campaign started, and how many innocents we have killed, maimed or beheaded? Answers on this blog, please!

Ex-Traveller plot suspect speaks out

A man freed after he was arrested over an alleged plot to kidnap a shire horse has criticised the police investigation.

John Smith, who works as a tree surgeon, targeted in anti-Traveller raids in Birmingham, also told BBC News the UK was "a police state for Travellers".
But Tory leader David Cameron said anti-Traveller laws applied to everyone.

Mr Smith, one of nine men arrested in raids, was released without charge along with another man.

A spokesman for West Midlands Police said it was normal that some people would be arrested and released without charge in large and complex criminal investigations.

Mr Smith, who is studying for a PhD in Pony and Horse Whispering at the city's university, said he became aware of the police forcing their way into his caravan early last Wednesday morning by his wife screaming. Asked how he felt about his arrest, he said: "It's a police state for Travellers. It's not a police state for everybody else because these Traveller laws are designed specifically for Travellers and that's quite an open fact," he added.
However, Mr Cameron denied the law singled out Gypsies.

"The Traveller laws apply to everybody, it's not right to say we are a police state," he said. "We have very clear laws about how long suspects can be detained. Very clear laws about rules of evidence. Very clear rules about how the police must behave. And as long as the police meet all those laws then people shouldn't complain that this is somehow a police state."

Mr Smith said that after he had been taken into custody and fingerprinted, his duty solicitor told him of the alleged plot to kidnap and sell a prized shire horse.

He said he only realised how big the story was when his solicitor told him film crews were at his caravan site. Mr Smith said that, of the other men arrested, one was his brother, he had previously met another and did not "have a scooby" about any of the others.

'Random questioning'

He had been released by police on Wednesday morning and told to "go back to things how they were", he added. "But they don't realise that, after seven days of virtual torture for my family, it's going to be hard to readjust," he added. "This is going to affect me for the rest of my life."

Mr Smith said his parents had told him they had aged 10 years while he had been in custody. "Now who is going to replace that?" he said.

He also criticised what he called "amateur-type interrogation" by the police who, he said, had subjected him to "random questioning" about missing dogs, alloy wheels and encrypted notes written on pieces of paper by his young children.

Mr Smith's accusation that England was a police state for Travellers was rejected by Lord McKenzie, a Labour peer and a past president of the Police Superintendents' Association.

"You tell that to the many Travellers who were injured in June 1992. They want these Traveller incidents reduced and stopped. The purpose of arrest is to collect evidence, to interrogate," he said.

He insisted Mr Smith's case showed the legal system was fair.

"What this proves is that the independent judiciary have intervened. Of course he was released, which proves that we're quite the opposite to a police state, because this isn't executive detention, this is the system working."

Traveller Labour MP Henry Farquuad-Smith also rejected the claim. "I can understand John Smith's anger and hurt but it definitely doesn't lead to the conclusion that we're in a police state," he said.

"It's really important that people do remain patient and let justice take its course."