On Friday 16th November, Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights released the findings of his visit to the United Kingdom. Friends, Families and Travellers with National Federation Gypsy Liaison Groups submitted evidence prior to the visit and we also met with the Rapporteur about poverty experienced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the UK. The Rapporteur bought together the report after meeting with community representatives, organisations and families experiencing hardship.
During our meeting with the Rapporteur were able to share the impact that welfare reform has had on Gypsy and Traveller families in the UK through stories we have received through our outreach work and our national helpline. We have experienced a high volume of enquiries from individuals who have been unable to access the Universal Credit application system due to lack of internet access, difficulties accessing the telephone system or issues completing the application process due to low levels of literacy.
On the topic of Universal Credit, the Rapporteur’s report said:
“Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are more likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle.”
The increasing volume of enquiries relating to internet access proving problematic for individual’s transferring to Universal Credit led to a report confirming that digital exclusion was much higher in Gypsy and Traveller communities. As such, we welcome Alston’s observation that “Overall rollout of broadband internet in the UK may be high, but those figures hide the fact that many poorer and more vulnerable households are effectively offline and without digital skills.”
Another area, relevant to Gypsy and Traveller families in the UK, the Rapporteur’s report called on the Department of Work and Pensions to carry out an independent review of the effectiveness of welfare reform since 2012. He added:
“The costs of austerity have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities. The changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 have been highly regressive, and the policies have taken the highest toll on those least able to bear it.”
In response to the publication of the report, Abbie Kirkby, Advice and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers. says:
“While The Rapporteur’s report didn’t refer specifically to Gypsy and Traveller communities, he addressed a number of issues we raised with him, including the transition to Universal Credit which has been devastating for many families we work with. The United Nations has repeatedly called on the UK government to improve the lives of Gypsies and Travellers in the UK and progress has been made at a snail pace if at all. “
The full report from Professor Alston is available here.
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.
Lucy Hetherington – Office hours Tuesday & Thursday, 10am – 6pm
Tel: 07963 382 190 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org