This morning, the Telegraph and the Times newspapers reported that the Priti Patel is set to give the police new powers to evict Travellers on roadside camps. The articles state that the Home Secretary will soon announce plans that will make it a criminal offence to trespass with the intention of settling and that those in breach of the new laws will face fines of up to £2500 or a three-month prison sentence.
The news comes as we await the upcoming Government response to the Home Office consultation on criminalising trespass and increasing police powers against unauthorised encampments. Under Government plans, families living on unauthorised encampments could face prison, a fine or the removal of their home simply for the “crime” of having nowhere else to go. Over 10,000 people submitted a response opposing the Government’s proposals through our website.
Earlier this week, we released a report which shows that there is a huge unmet need for pitches on public Traveller sites in England. The report reveals that whilst over 1696 households are currently on waiting lists for pitches on public sites, there are just 59 permanent and 42 transit pitches available nationwide.
In addition, research we launched in September 2020 shows that only 21.7% of police respondents to the Home Office’s consultation agreed with the proposals to criminalise unauthorised encampments whilst 93.7% of police bodies called for site provision as the solution to unauthorised encampments.
Today, a coalition of civil society of organisations wrote a joint open letter to the Home Secretary regarding the Government’s proposals to criminalise trespass. Signatories of the joint letter included CPRE, Ramblers, Open Spaces Society, Friends Families and Travellers, the British Mountaineering Council, Friends of the Earth, British Canoeing, Cycling UK, Homeless Link and Guy Shrubsole and Nick Hayes, co-founders of the Right to Roam campaign.
Responding to today’s announcement, we have released the following statement:
“It is deeply unfair that while the Government is dramatically failing to identify enough land for Gypsy and Traveller families to live on, the Home Secretary is working to create laws to imprison and fine families living on roadside camps for the “crime” of having nowhere else to go. The Government must do more to identify land for Gypsy and Traveller people to live and stop placing blame on the very families they have failed. Everybody needs a place to live.”
Responding to the news, Martin Docherty-Hughes, Co-Chair of the APPG for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma said:
“While the UK Government seeks to project itself as a human rights global player in the post Brexit world, at home it is clear that it is now using its reactionary, blame culture to target the historic minority communities of these Islands rather than tackling gross inequalities. Anyone of good conscience would and should condemn this announcement.”
Also in response to today’s announcement, Grey Collier, Advocacy Director at Liberty, said:
“We all want others to respect our way of life, and everyone should be able to live free from discrimination including Gypsy and Traveller communities. These proposals are a rejection of evidence gathered in multiple consultations, including submissions from policing bodies. This Bill will not resolve the issue it purports to address; it merely threatens the fundamental rights of some of the most marginalised people in the UK. It will also undermine the right to protest, which is already under attack as the Government tries to reduce the ways all of us can hold it to account. Successive Governments have failed to provide the safe sites that Gypsy and Traveller communities need. Instead of criminalising people for their way of life, the Government must identify adequate space to help these communities live and reduce the discrimination they face.”
Over the coming weeks, we will be launching a template letter for people to write to their MP and raise their concerns.
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]