If there must be a review of powers to tackle unauthorised sites, the focus should be on local authorities’ failure to identify land for Gypsies and Travellers to live on

This morning, Housing Minister Dominic Raab announced that there will be a review of powers to deal with unauthorised caravan sites. This follows a series of debates on the topic in October 2017, where a number of parliamentarians called for increased eviction powers. We are highly concerned that the upcoming review and actions will fail to address the root cause of unauthorised sites, which is the chronic shortage of Gypsy and Traveller sites in the UK. We are also concerned that if new enforcement powers are introduced, they will have negative effects for the vast majority of Gypsies and Travellers who do not engage in anti-social behaviour.

“I have lived on the side of the road in Bristol and take my rubbish to the tip in a shopping trolley. The council will not pick it up even though I am self-employed. I am going to a flat next week after being homeless for a year. The place I am parked is cleaner than I found it. This country is wrong in lots of things”

Mark Crump

In the government’s most recent caravan count in July 2017, 16% of caravans were on unauthorised land. This is largely a result of the shortage of Gypsy and Traveller sites. The lack of sites means that many Gypsy and Traveller families are statutorily homeless and have interrupted access to basic water and sanitation, education and healthcare. Gypsies and Travellers are recognised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as one of the groups experiencing the worst health and educational inequalities in the UK. The lack of sites is recognised as a major contributing factor to this.

Recognising the highly detrimental impact the lack of sites is having on Gypsy and Traveller communities, the international community have made calls for the UK government to make steps to address this. Repeated calls have been made by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Advisory Committee On The Framework Convention For The Protection Of National Minorities. Despite this, little progress towards site provision has been made.

“We camped at Loch Lomond for 6 months, beautiful place. I tell you we had to pick up the rubbish left behind by fisher men and by people having BBQS and picnics who weren’t Travellers. We cleaned the rubbish because we knew we would get the blame for the mess and get shifted. In saying that, there’s no excuse for being dirty whether you’re a Traveller or not.”

Fiona Macdonald

Under the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (formerly DCLG) Planning Policy for Traveller Sites, local authorities are required to identify a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide five years’ worth of sites against their locally set targets. In May and June 2016, we undertook a piece of research to ascertain if this was happening and found that in the South East of England, only 10 out of 66 local authorities had met this requirement and identified land for Gypsies and Travellers to live on.

“We have been encouraged to purchase our own land. However, both the European Court of Human Rights and the House of Lords have cast doubt on the effectiveness of this policy approach because while Gypsies and Travellers have to apply for planning permission (the same as any other citizen) we are usually refused planning permission.”

Nathalie Bennett, CEO of Gypsylife

Further to this, we conducted a piece of research in December 2017 which found that there has only been a 2% increase in socially rented pitches between 2010 and 2017; an insufficient number to address even natural growth through household formation, let alone a historic lack of pitches for Gypsy and Traveller families. The research also found that the government reported an increase of 551 affordable pitches for Gypsies and Travellers between 2012 and 2017 but the actual figure is no more than 339.

Speaking of Dominic Raab’s announcement today, Michelle Gavin, Projects Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers said:

“We absolutely condemn the Minister’s decision to review powers to deal with unauthorised caravan sites. The vast majority of Gypsies and Travellers who are living on unauthorised land are not doing this because they want to. Would you want to live in a public space with next to no privacy? Would you want to get regularly evicted? Would you want to be the subject of press articles about “Traveller invasions”? In large, Gypsy and Traveller families are living on unauthorised land because there is a chronic national shortage of Traveller sites. Local authorities are responsible for identifying land for Gypsy and Traveller communities to live on, but the vast majority of local authorities are completely failing to fulfil this duty.”

“The upcoming review chooses to focus on the anti-social behaviour of a small section of the Gypsy and Traveller communities and is part of a push for an increase in eviction powers. If families are evicted from an unauthorised site, they often have nowhere else to go – there aren’t enough sites. It will just create a new unauthorised site in a new area. The result will be an absolute waste of public money and the two main victims will be statutorily homeless Gypsy and Traveller families and the British tax payer.”

“It is a disgrace that in 2018, so many Gypsy and Traveller families cannot access a site to live on and therefore cannot access basic water and sanitation and often experience interrupted access to education and healthcare. It is bordering on farcical that the government have decided to place the emphasis on reviewing enforcement powers for statutorily homeless families, instead of focusing on local authorities’ nationwide failure to identify land for Traveller sites.”

Whilst the review purports to take into consideration the fact that constant evictions have a negative impact on the health and education of Travellers, of which the growing body of evidence supports, we fear that it will just further anti-Gypsyism sweeping across Europe. Despite some efforts at national, European and international level, persistent and structural anti-Gypsyism can be detected at all levels of European society; in individual and institutional neglect, discrimination, inequality, disempowerment, belittling, othering and scapegoating, stigmatisation, hate speech, extreme poverty and profound social exclusion.

We call upon the UK Government to deal with the real issue, which is one of profound inequality!

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.

Media Contact

Sarah Sweeney – Office hours Monday – Friday, 10am – 6pm

Tel: 07963 382 190 Email: sarahsweeney@gypsy-traveller.org

Other relevant reports

Friends, Families and Travellers Briefing: Lack of increase in Affordable Pitches for Gypsies and Travellers in England, December 2017

Friends, Families and Travellers Briefing: Research on the five year supply of deliverable Gypsy and Traveller sites in the South East, June 2016

Friends, Families and Travellers Leaflet: Changes to planning definition for Gypsies and Travellers, November 2015

 

Last updated Jun 5, 2018

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