Today, Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) have released new research showing the shocking lack of pitches available on public Traveller sites in England. The report reveals that whilst over 1696 households are currently on waiting lists for pitches, there are just 59 permanent and 42 transit pitches available nationwide.
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.
Despite this, research launched by FFT 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.
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. Today’s report reinforces the severe shortage of pitches available for Gypsy and Traveller people in England.
The research found that there were available pitches on only 13 residential sites and five transit sites across the country. Notably, 20 of the available pitches had no source of electricity and a number of the pitches have been labelled “not fit to use” and “in a terrible state” by locals.
In a number of areas, councils highlighted the huge unmet need for new pitches, for example, in Surrey, where there are 150 households on waiting lists for pitches, the report authors were told that current sites were all doubled up and there was overcrowding. In another area, the report authors heard that despite long waiting lists for sites no new pitches had become available in the past four years.
The report calls on Government to change their approach to unauthorised encampments from enforcement, to an approach which prioritises provision of sites and negotiated stopping arrangements. The report also says that the Government should reintroduce pitch targets and a statutory duty onto local authorities to meet the assessed need for Gypsy and Traveller sites.
Responding to the findings of the research, Sarah Sweeney, Policy and Communications Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers said:
“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, fine and remove the homes of 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.”
Jackie, speaking about a family member’s experience of waiting lists, said:
“My brother has only recently got a site after being on the waiting list for five years. Before that his family with a young baby were living mostly on caravan and campsites where they could. They’ve been on the site since before Christmas and it’s a relief. There’s not much room in a caravan on the road and now they’ve got access to a day room and the bath and shower. It makes things a lot easier.”
This is Mary’s experience, as she waits for a pitch:
“When I was expecting my daughter, I put myself down for 2 sites in the South West. Both are one hour from where my family and I need to be for work, school and family connections. It’s been three years and we still don’t have a site. The advice from the Liaison Officer was “to park up where you feel safest and where people are least likely to complain”.”
Speaking about her family’s experiences trying to get a pitch, Sarah said:
“My daughter, Sarah Jane and her partner Jason are currently staying with me. They’ve been with me for four months and on waiting lists for a pitch for over three years. They were offered one a little while ago but then told it was a mistake and that they couldn’t move in. I was on a waiting list for three and a half years. The plot I’m on now isn’t where I wanted but they don’t come up very often. I took it and it’s working for us. But it was horrible waiting, I didn’t have anywhere to go with my children – we kept getting moved on. After Covid, my daughter and her husband don’t know where they’re going to go. It’s terrible.”
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]
‘Last on the list: An overview of unmet need for pitches on Traveller sites in England’. Friends, Families and Travellers. January 2021. View here.