Gypsies and Travellers experience racism, discrimination and inequality

by Michael Smith

A new research review that came out on March 18, 2009 shows that Gypsy and Traveller communities in Britain experience extensive inequalities, including pervasive racism and discrimination.

They are not, are they? I do not think it would have needed an expensive research to notice that. All one needs to do is open the red tops and there the anti-Gypsyism of the UK public comes to the forefront again and again. Worse still when one goes and has a look at those very same red tops' websites and at the comments that sare left there by readers.

It would have hardly required lots of research but nevertheless if this can highlight the problems and bring them to the attention of everyone it might get us somewhere. On the other hand, however, I can already hear the comments of the same kind of people that comment on the red tops' websites “another load of taxpayers money wasted on them dirty Gyppos” and such like. This always is a two-edged sword.

Some of the key findings of the report by Sarah Cemlyn from the University's School for Policy Studies, Margaret Greenfields from Buckinghamshire New University and the Friends, Families and Travellers organisation are that:

· The lack of suitable secure accommodation underpins many of the inequalities that Gypsy and Traveller communities experience

· Gypsies and Travellers die earlier than the rest of the population

· Gypsies and Travellers experience worse health, yet are less likely to receive effective, continuous healthcare

· Children's educational achievements are worse and declining (contrary to the national trend)

· Participation in secondary education is extremely low, with discrimination and abusive behaviour on the part of staff and students frequently cited as reasons for leaving education early

· Employment rates are low, and poverty high

· There is an increasing problem of substance abuse among unemployed and disaffected young people

· There are high suicide rates among the communities
· Children suffer psychological damage from repeated brutal evictions, tensions associated with insecure lifestyles, and hostility from the wider population

· Gypsies and Travellers who are forced to move into bricks-and-mortar housing can experience the worst housing conditions, combined with racist hostility from neighbours and isolation from their communities

· For some particularly excluded groups of young Gypsies and Travellers, there is a process of accelerated criminalisation, reflecting racism within the criminal justice system, and leading rapidly to custody

· Within prisons, the perpetuation of discrimination, disadvantage and cultural dislocation can lead to acute distress and frequently suicide

· There is a lack of access to culturally appropriate support services for people in the most vulnerable situations, such as women experiencing domestic violence

According to Sarah Cemlyn, the report's lead author:

'This review reveals severe and far-reaching inequalities and discrimination affecting Gypsies and Travellers. Underpinning many of these is the lack of appropriate accommodation for between a fifth and a quarter of caravan-dwelling Gypsies and Travellers, resulting in lack of basic facilities of water and sanitation, lack of security, and frequent and sometimes brutal evictions.

'However the report goes well beyond this in reviewing inequalities across multiple policy areas including education, health, social care, employment, criminal justice and community cohesion. It found that stereotyping and racism is pervasive and often overt, frequently fuelled by misleading media reporting. Children are particularly vulnerable to racism from people in authority, members of the public and other children.'

Margaret Greenfields added that:

'The review explores a range of issues which have so far been overshadowed by the necessity of providing adequate accommodation for marginalised members of these minority communities. We have welcomed the opportunity afforded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) commissioning this review to move beyond this and consider not only the prejudice and inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers, but also good practice, especially that developed by Gypsies and Travellers themselves despite being faced with almost over-whelming odds.'

The research team highlighted that the review contains detailed recommendations for each policy area investigated, while highlighting the urgency of providing sufficient sites, the necessity for service providers to fulfil race equality duties under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 in providing culturally appropriate services, and the importance of developing solutions in consultation with Gypsy, Traveller and Showman communities.

The report, entitled Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller communities: a review, by Sarah Cemlyn et al, which reviewed existing research across a wide range of policy areas, was published by the EHRC.

© M Smith (Veshengro), 2009