Today, the Government has launched its response to its consultation on strengthening police powers for roadside camps. Whilst the majority of over 26,000 responses to the Government’s consultation did not support the proposals, the Government announced that it planned to still go ahead with plans to strengthen police powers against roadside camps.
Under the Government’s plans, a new criminal offence will be introduced for people living on roadside camps which could result in people being imprisoned, fined or having their home removed from them. In addition, the Government plans to strengthen existing powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act to increase the period of time a roadside camp can return to a piece of land from 3 months to 12 months, give powers to enable the police to direct a roadside camp away from land that forms part of a highway and more.
While the Government says that the proposals are intended to tackle the behaviour of the minority of people living on roadside camps who engage in anti-social behaviour, we are deeply concerned that the proposals are widely open to interpretation and are likely to impact upon everyone living on a roadside camp.
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.
In addition, a significant number of the ‘harms and problems’ related to roadside camps listed by the Government such as issues related to interference with water supplies, disposal of human waste and rubbish disposal are all basic public health issues which could be solved by provision of Traveller sites and by using a negotiated stopping approach to roadside camps. Despite this, the focus of the proposals remains on criminalising people living on roadside camps.
In January 2021, 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. Further to this, research launched by FFT in February 2020 shows that only 8 out of 68 councils in South East England had identified enough land in their area for Travellers to live.
Friends, Families and Travellers will be launching a tool in the coming weeks to support people to write to their MP in preparation for the Government’s proposals being debated in parliament.
Responding to the news, Abbie Kirkby, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers said:
“The Government seems hell bent on introducing tougher police powers for people living on roadside camps, even though all the evidence is stacking up against them – in their own consultation it is clear that most respondents don’t want tougher powers. The views of the majority of consultation respondents have been ignored, opening the door to a harsh and unfair set of proposals which punish some of the UK’s minority ethnic groups, who already face some of the starkest inequalities.
Our research shows that the majority of police respondents are against the proposals and also that there is a chronic national shortage of places to stop. The Government should not imprison people, fine them and remove their homes for the ‘crime’ of having nowhere to go. Another way is possible. Through negotiated stopping and by identifying land where Traveller sites can be built, councils can ensure nomadic families have a safe place to stop, save money on evictions and improve relations between travelling and settled communities. Everybody needs a place to live.”
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP, Co-chair of the APPG on Gypsies, Traveller and Roma, responding to the Government plans:
“The powers being proposed by Government embody the hostile environment towards Gypsy and Traveller people. Whilst we see the Government’s plan to penalise and criminalise Gypsies and Travellers published, we are yet to see the publication of the sorely needed Government strategy on tackling the inequalities experienced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. For too long nomadic communities have been demonised and scapegoated and we oppose the introduction of further draconian legislation. I am also horrified to see this issue being addressed in a Bill which seeks to address serious criminal activity such as child murder and sexual offences. It is clear from the consultation responses that the majority of respondents opposed the new powers and frankly the Government response makes a mockery of the ‘consultation process’.”
Responding to the proposals, Jenny who is Romany Gypsy said:
“My daughter is trying to get a pitch, but loads of families trying, she’s feeling depressed. Her and her partner don’t know where they’re going to go. It’s not right to criminalise us all. We don’t leave any rubbish, we respect the other residents, we clean up after ourselves, but we’re going to be stopped from travelling. There aren’t enough sites for Travellers. We’re being treated like animals. They’re always building more houses but no more sites. She can’t get a site, she can’t stop on the road. She’s tearful, she’s crying a lot. She just wants to settle down and make a life for herself like anyone else.”
Responding to the proposals, Lisa who is Scottish Traveller said:
“I was raised in caravans and transits and now I live horsedrawn. I’m full of dread [at the proposals]. My earliest memories of police and bailiff’s evicting us from woodland, when I was five and it was horrible. I travel with my partner and I am quite ill. Sometimes we need to park with a third vehicle so we can get physical and health support for us or the horse. This is my home, it is everything we have. For that to be seized and taken away, we would be left destitute. There’s some Travellers that go out in wagons, but they have land and places to winter. We’re on the road every week of the year. We have nowhere to go. I have panic attacks at the thought of going into house, which is what I would have to do if my home is taken off me. I would have to present to a local authority as homeless, and no one would be duty bound to home us because we have no connection. To me, someone who is ill, these proposals are life threatening.”
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, Communications Officer
Tel: 07436 228910 Email: [email protected]
‘Briefing on new police powers for encampments in Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Part 4’. Friends, Families and Travellers. March 2021. View here.