On Saturday 11th April 2020, Stephen Greenhalgh, Minister of State in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government wrote to local authorities across England highlighting how they can support Gypsies and Travellers during the coronavirus pandemic.
While we welcome some of the content of the letter, we feel that it does not go far enough, especially in contrast with the Scottish and Welsh governments’ responses, which both gave clear instructions on halting evictions and went into more detail on the support local authorities should be offering at this time.
The letter comes after Friends, Families and Travellers and 29 other organisations wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Housing calling on the Government to draw up a clear plan to support Gypsy and Traveller communities at this time.
In the letter from the Minister for State to local authorities, Stephen Greenhalgh highlights that local authorities have a responsibility to ensure all communities are supported to stop the spread of COVID-19, including Gypsies and Travellers.
In particular, the Minister highlights that local authorities may have to provide additional temporary water, sanitation and waste disposal facilities to those currently lacking access to these, or making alternative stopping places available, such as transit sites, suitable local authority land, and holiday campsites which may have closed and have established facilities.
The letter drew attention to an injection of £1.6 billion in new grant funding, £1.8 billion grant for business rates reliefs measures, £3.2 million in targeted funding for rough sleeps and a £500 million Hardship Fund, all of which have been released so that local authorities can provide council tax relief and other financial support to the most vulnerable people and households in their area.
Commenting on the Government letter to local authorities, Abbie Kirkby, Advice and Policy Manager at Friends Families and Travellers said:
“We are pleased to finally see the Government recognising the basic needs of Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans during the COVID-19 crisis. Worryingly, access to water, sanitation and other facilities have become increasingly difficult – which is the worst time for this to happen. Imagine not having access to water or sanitation at a time like this, or not being able to self-isolate – it’s frightening. The cost of arranging temporary amenities is really a drop in the ocean and we hope to see more local authorities using some of their Government funding to do this. Nobody should be excluded from protection because of the type of home they have. We’re experiencing a global pandemic, and at this time, more than ever, we should pull together and protect one another.”
Notes for Editor
About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)
Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works on behalf of all Gypsies, Roma and Travellers regardless of ethnicity, culture or background.
Lucy Hetherington, Communications Officer
Tel: 07425 419853 Email: [email protected]
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government. ‘Covid-19: Mitigating Impacts on Gypsy & Traveller Communities’. April 2020. View here.