Friends, Families and Travellers was set up over 25 years ago to support the nomadic way of life in modern Britain. Our mission has always been and always will be to create a safer, more just society for Gypsies, Roma, Travellers and nomadic people.
As the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill becomes law, we’re aware of the darkness the criminalisation of trespass could bring to the nomadic way of life. The same nomadic way of life that is sacred for many of Britain’s hundreds of thousands of Gypsy and Traveller people, whether actively travelling or otherwise.
Despite its aims, the Policing Bill will not eradicate travelling. Instead, it will force those who have nowhere else to go into a direct confrontation with the law. A family seeking somewhere to bed down for the night will have to reckon with the possibility of their home being seized, their children thrown into care and their livelihoods torn apart.
The Government cannot claim ignorance on how devastating this piece of legislation will be – opposition to the Policing Bill has been relentless.
Voices from across the NGO sector have spoken out against this Bill, including Friends of the Earth, Liberty, Quakers and many, many others. The Police Bill Alliance was even created to unite organisations.
But, opposition hasn’t just come from the NGOs.
The overwhelming majority of Police Forces (the very same agencies tasked with enforcement) do not support the measures outlined in the Bill. The National Police Chiefs Council called for more suitable stopping places, not additional powers. The Home Office has chosen to ignore these calls.
Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum repeatedly warned against the Bill’s draconian proposals. Time and time again, they staunchly stood against the Bill. The Joint Committee on Human Rights warned that this legislation could breach fundamental human rights.
Grassroots action saw members of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller and nomadic communities along with allies take to the streets to make their voices heard, up and down the country. Consultations were responded to, petitions were signed, letters were written and emails were sent.
Even the Council of Europe called on Parliamentarians to reject the criminalisation of trespass.
There is a silver lining here, and it’s the incredible solidarity forged in the fight against the Bill.
Now, the Government has willingly turned its back to every piece of advice from experts and the communities most affected. Instead, we are witnessing an iron-fist approach to families and individuals who have been left with little choice.
Local authorities have demonstrated little political will to provide safe stopping places. The failure to create culturally-pertinent accommodation has never been more apparent. Gypsies, Travellers and nomadic people will now experience a squeeze at both the national and local level.
This piece of legislation and the chronic lack of stopping places do plenty to tell people where they can’t go, but offer no alternatives for where they can go. If you criminalise trespass and further marginalise families and entire communities, you must also reinstate the duty on local authorities to offer suitable stopping places – as sites or negotiated stopping arrangements. Otherwise, this assimilation-by-stealth sets a terrifying precedent not just for Gypsy and Traveller families, but for society at large.
At Friends, Families and Travellers, we will not give up the fight. We will support families and anyone wishing to have their rights upheld through the courts. We will be producing materials and running workshops and events on what the legislation means and how to sustain a nomadic way of life under the new law. Our Helpline will be ready and waiting to support those who reach out to us.
Many who harbour prejudice and hate will hope the Policing Bill marks the end of nomadic life in Britain. However, the resilience shown by Gypsy, Traveller and nomadic communities throughout the decades, and especially over the past couple of years, should give us all hope.
FRIENDS, FAMILIES & TRAVELLERS[END]
Notes for Editor
About Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT)
Friends, Families and Travellers is a leading national charity that works to end racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and to protect the right to pursue a nomadic way of life.
Sami McLaren, Senior Communications & Campaigns Officer
Tel: 07436 228910 Email: [email protected]
Image credit: ‘ROMANO DROM: GYPSY NEWS’. Article: ‘Government move to outlaw [gypsies] in some parts of Britain’ No. 7, Autumn 1972. Page 4.
‘Day of Solidarity with Gypsy and Traveller people: Resources’. Friends, Families and Travellers, Various. April 2022. View here.
‘Stay up to date with our campaigns’. Friends, Families and Travellers. Sign up.
‘Briefing: Accommodation issues facing Gypsies and Travellers in England’. Friends, Families and Travellers. March 2022. View here.