Frequently Asked Questions
Ever wondered if there's a Gypsy King or Queen? Why Gypsy and Traveller people travel? What language Romany Gypsy people speak? Then this page is for you!
We know it can be confusing to find the right answer at times, so we created this one-stop resource with answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
If you have a question you'd like answered, get in touch!
The umbrella term ‘Gypsies, Roma and Travellers’ includes many different and distinct groups. For example, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy/Travellers and Romani people who are recognised ethnic groups. In addition, this can include New Travellers, Showpeople and Boaters who are often included under this umbrella term because they practice nomadism.
Each community is distinct and unique in its own right, and the ‘travelling community’ is mostly a myth born from some television shows. There are instead several communities with distinct histories, traditions, cultures and ethnicities. However, there is often great solidarity and sense of friendship among Gypsy and Traveller peoples, who will often stand together and help each other. People often use the word “communities” to describe Gypsies and Travellers, but please don’t be mistaken that everyone knows one another!
Many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people face similar inequalities and experiences of racism or discrimination, which makes it possible to advocate for many of these issues collectively. This is why organisations and governments use the term ‘Gypsies, Roma and Travellers’ in policy and legislature.
However, sometimes people group together Gypsies, Roma and Travellers because of the mistaken belief that all nomads are one people. In fact, traditional nomadism is a common way of life for many cultures and communities around the world!
Romany Gypsies belong to the wider Romani people (including Roma, Kale, Sinti and others) who are believed to have left India in the 11th century. Over time, Romani people gained many European influences but kept a distinct ethnicity and heritage. British Romanies first arrived in Britain in the early 1500s, but Romani people can be found worldwide. The word ‘Romani’ represents all Romani people across the world who share the same ethnic origin, while ‘Romany’ tends to be used to refer to people in the UK of that same ethnic origin.
Irish Travellers originated in Ireland and are estimated to have come to Britain from Ireland in the 1800s.
New Travellers is a term often used to describe people from all walks of life who have chosen to live nomadically. However, the term is also used to specifically describe the New Traveller community born through the free festival movement in the 1960s and onwards. People within this community tended to favour low-impact, alternative, eco-minded and festival-related lifestyles. Government responses to the formation of this community led to what is now known as ‘The Battle of the Beanfields’ in 1985. Later laws made life difficult for this community, and many New Travellers moved to Europe while those that remained regrouped into smaller communities. As of 2021, there are now people born into 3rd and 4th generations of families who follow what is now known as the New Traveller way of life.
Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognised ethnic groups according to English law. However Roma people and Scottish Gypsy/Travellers are widely recognised as ethnic groups and would be likely to meet the same criteria.
It depends. ‘Gypsy’ is sometimes seen as offensive or as a racial slur. However, there are several Romani groups in Europe who have claimed this word and use it with pride. This includes many individuals within the UK who proudly use the word ‘Gypsy’ to describe themselves. It’s best to ask individuals how they like to be referred to and follow their lead.
Romany is just the English spelling of ‘Romani’. ‘Romany’ usually refers to people who are descended from the original migrants to Britain (in the 1500s), while ‘Romani’ refers more broadly to the worldwide Romani people.
The Romani people are made up of many, many diverse groups all around the world. This includes Romany and Roma. Each group is culturally unique and distinct, but each also belongs to the worldwide ethnic family of Romani people.
No. A lot of Gypsy and Traveller families live in bricks and mortar housing permanently and/or are on permanent sites. In fact, the 2011 Census indicated that around ¾ of Gypsies and Travellers live in bricks and mortar accommodation whilst around ¼ live in a caravan or other temporary structure. If a Romany Gypsy or Irish Traveller person no longer travels, this doesn’t mean they are no longer a Gypsy or a Traveller, as this is a description of their ethnicity rather than just their accommodation type.
There are many reasons. From visiting loved ones, going to funerals or family occasions to being part of their heritage. People may also travel for work, and some may travel because discrimination makes it difficult to settle.
Usually because there aren’t enough sites or negotiated stopping places in the area and there isn’t any other place to stop. Councils have a responsibility to identify land for Travellers to live and stop in their area, but the vast majority fail to do this.
Irish Travellers usually refer to themselves as Travellers, Pavee or Mincéirs.
There are believed to be 300,000 or more Gypsy and Traveller people currently living in the UK.
There are Gypsies and Travellers across every profession – nurses, police, social workers, company directors and so much more. However, Gypsies and Travellers are more likely to be self-employed than the general population. Traditional roles include gardening, building, vehicle trade, animal trade and more. One of the reasons Gypsies and Travellers are more likely to be in self-employment is because of discrimination when applying for jobs.
Romani people speak Romany Jib/Romani Ĉib. This language is related to Punjabi and Hindi, but with heavy European influences and loanwords. Due to historic persecution, fluency in this language may vary but it has 80+ distinct dialects!
Travellers speak The Cant, De Gammon and Shelta, as well as English.
Yes. Gypsies and Travellers pay tax, just like everyone else! People living on Traveller sites have to pay rent, council tax, electricity, gas and all the usual bills we all need to.
There is no king or queen. Traveller families often have someone that makes the main decisions that will affect the family as a whole, and is usually a patriarch or matriarch of the family. This is often the same for Romany people, who have no tradition of royalty. However, they do have strict systems of honour and social hierarchy which may have been misunderstood for ‘royal status’ by outsiders.