Today, the House of Lords Public Services Committee released its first report, ‘A critical juncture for public services: lessons from COVID-19’. The report follows an inquiry into the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on the future role, priorities and shape of public services.
Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) and the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups (NFGLG) submitted written evidence to the inquiry in June 2020, highlighting five key issues in public service provision for Gypsies, Roma and Travellers:
- Some local authorities continuing to evict Gypsies and Travellers during the first lockdown;
- Sizeable number of local authorities failing to offer adequate access to water and sanitation at the height of lockdown;
- Insufficient information on access to testing for people on roadside camps and on boats;
- Digital-first approaches exacerbating barriers in accessing healthcare;
- Insufficient support for children and young people to participate in remote schooling.
FFT Director, Sarah Mann, provided oral evidence to the Public Services Committee in July 2020, elaborating further on these issues.
In response to the issue of the digital-first approach in accessing healthcare, the inquiry report states that “public services [should] maintain face-to-face services wherever they are needed” and that the Government must focus on “improving digital access and skills for those parts of the population that are at risk of digital exclusion”.
Addressing the failure of adequate remote schooling provision, the report emphasises that “COVID-19 should be a wake-up call for the Government that the designers and providers of public services have paid insufficient attention to the specific needs of minority groups”, with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups experiencing “significant inequalities of access”, which have worsened since the start of the pandemic.
The report goes on to recommend that the Government should “introduce a race equality strategy that would apply across public services and address inequalities of access for…Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people”. However, the Government already committed to a strategy to tackle inequalities in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, in June 2019.
Speaking about the report, Sarah Sweeney, Policy and Communications Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers:
“COVID-19 has changed the way we all work, live and go about our lives. While we are all in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat. We are grateful to the Public Services Committee for recognising how education and healthcare have often been delivered in ways that are disadvantageous to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people during the pandemic and identifying ways in which this can be addressed.
We would have liked to have a recognition in the report of the insufficient support offered to people living on roadside camps during the first lockdown – the continued evictions, lack of access to water and sanitation at the height of lockdown and the ongoing issues in access to testing. We will continue to work to address these issues.”
Dr Siobhan Spencer MBE of the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups said:
“While we welcome the publication of this report, especially the statement that “COVID-19 should be a wake-up call for the Government that the designers and providers of public services have paid insufficient attention to the specific needs of minority groups…Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups experience significant inequalities of access. These inequalities have worsened since the beginning of the pandemic“, we would like to draw attention to the fact that some local authorities have continued to evict families living roadside, particularly since the end of the first national lockdown, thereby forcing them to move at a time that movement was being discouraged. What is needed is an approach that enables families to remain “in situ” wherever possible rather than perpetually moving them on.”
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.
Sami McLaren, Communications Officer
Tel: 07436 228910 Email: [email protected]
‘National strategy to tackle Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inequalities’. GOV UK. June 2019. View here.
‘Submission to the Public Services Committee Inquiry ‘Public Services: lessons from coronavirus’’. FFT and NFGLG. June 2020. View here.
‘Public services: lessons from coronavirus’. House of Lords Public Services Committee. July 2020. Watch here.
‘A critical juncture for public services: lessons from COVID-19’. House of Lords Public Services Committee. November 2020. View report.