COMMONS

Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities 'comprehensively failed' by policy makers

05 April 2019

There has been a persistent failure by national and local policy makers to tackle long standing inequalities facing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in any sustained way, says a major new report by the Women and Equalities Committee. 

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have the worst outcomes of any ethnic group across a huge range of areas, including education, health, employment, criminal justice and hate crime. The report of this two year inquiry makes 49 recommendations for change.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Committee, Maria Miller MP, said:

"Our inquiry has tried to shine a light on the issues that are rarely talked about by policy makers: Gypsies and Travellers are likely to die over a decade earlier than non-Travellers, only a handful of Gypsy and Traveller people go to university every year and many Roma are being exploited by rogue landlords and paid far below the minimum wage."

The Committee is concerned that although three out of four Gypsies and Travellers live in settled accommodation, Government policy making is overwhelmingly focused on planning and encampments, and that these eclipse a wide range of other important issues around policy and service provision.

The inquiry heard repeatedly that important areas of public policy and service provision seem to consist of small scale projects that are funded for a time and then not taken forward strategically. Specialist support that has been put in place in education and health is no sustained and is increasingly reliant on small voluntary agencies.

The report focuses on improving policy and service provision in a range of other areas including: education, health, discrimination and hate crime, and domestic violence.

Chair's comment

Women and Equalities Committee Chair Maria Miller said:

"Gypsy Roma and Traveller people have been comprehensively failed by policy makers and public services for far too long. Access to education, health, employment, criminal justice, tackling hate crime and domestic violence - all these require services which differentiate between different groups who have different needs, and yet so many services are ill-equipped to support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. The Government must stop filing this under 'too difficult' and set out how it intends to improve health, education and other outcomes for these very marginalised communities who area all too often "out of sight and out of mind."

While the number of Gypsy Roma and Traveller people in the UK may be small compared to other groups, the Government’s commitment to race equality must reach even the most disenfranchised".

These are some of the worst inequalities that the inquiry heard about: 

Education

  • Pupils from Gypsy or Roma backgrounds and those from a Traveller or Irish Heritage background had the lowest attainment of all ethnic groups throughout their school years (Govt Race Disparity Audit).

Health

  • Fourteen per cent of Gypsies and Travellers describe their health as “bad” or “very bad” – more than twice as high as white British people (2011 Census);
  • The health status of Gypsies and Travellers is much poorer than that of the general population, even when controlling for other factors such as variable socio-economic status and/or ethnicity;
  • Life expectancy is 10-12 years less than that of the non-Traveller population;
  • 42% of English Gypsies are affected by a long term condition, compared with 18% of the general population;
  • One in five Gypsy Traveller mothers will experience the loss of a child, compared with one in a hundred in the non- Traveller community (evidence submission from University of Bedfordshire)

Discrimination and hate crime

  • A survey carried out by Traveller Movement found that 90% of respondents had experienced discrimination and 77% had experienced hate speech or a hate crime

Key recommendations and Chair's comments

Data collection

Maria Miller:  "There is no data collected on Roma people. This leaves them with problems accessing the services they need. They are invisible to policy makers. If you’re not counted, you don’t count."

Recommendation: The Race Disparity Audit should review all the Government and public datasets that currently do not use the 2011 census ethnicity classifications and require their use before the end of 2019.

Recommendation: Gypsy, Irish Traveller and Roma categories should be added to the NHS data dictionary as a matter of urgency.

Government policy

Maria Miller: "We have heard throughout the inquiry that Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities are rarely considered in policies and strategies. The effect of this can vary from feelings of exclusion and lack of trust to severe discrimination."

Recommendation: Leadership from the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government on tackling inequalities in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities has been lacking. The situation is made worse by the Government’s ongoing resistance to cross-departmental strategies on race equality issues including for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The Government must have a clear and effective plan to support these communities that is equal to the level of the challenges they face.

Discrimination

Maria Miller: "Our inquiry heard that many people don’t know that it is illegal to discriminate against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and, even when they do, they do it anyway. Some of this discrimination is happening in our public services and this is simply not good enough. Leaders of public services need to be trained to stop it."

Recommendation: senior leaders in all public service bodies be trained in the Public Sector Equality Duty and that each body have a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller "champion", similar to the role that exists in the National Police Chiefs Council. 

Domestic violence

Maria Miller: "Gypsy and Traveller women have particular challenges that we heard about during our inquiry. Families are very tight-knit and if a woman tried to flee violence, she can find herself isolated and far away from her family and support networks."

Recommendation: We have heard of effective work that community organisations are doing working with Gypsy and Traveller men and women to challenge outdated attitudes towards women. The Home Office should work with these organisations with a view to funding similar programmes across the country.

Education

Maria Miller: "There is no lack of aspiration from Gypsy and Traveller parents for their children, but for some, formal education is not seen as part of those aspirations. Often Gypsy and Traveller stop attending school at a very early age because their parents don’t see the relevance for them. This means that it is too easy for the education system that would give them the best start in life to write off the potential of Gypsy and Traveller children, enabling prejudice to continue. The Government needs to work with schools to make sure that no child falls through the cracks in the system."
 
Recommendation: It is intolerable that any child should not be receiving a suitable education. Many parents, schools and local authorities are letting down Gypsy and Traveller children. The first priority for the Government, local authorities and Ofsted must be to ensure that the legal right to an education is not denied to any child, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. Home education should be a positive, informed choice, not a reaction to either a poor school environment or family expectations. 
 
Recommendation: Schools should, as part of their responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty, be challenging race and gender stereotypes wherever they encounter them. Ofsted should ensure that inspectors are actively inspecting schools for gender and racial stereotyping.

Health

Maria Miller: "Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have some of the worst health outcomes of any group. We heard about problems with accessing healthcare services due to discrimination or language and literacy barriers. We also heard that service-providers are not considering Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people properly when they design the services.  We are recommending that the Equality and Human Rights Commission should make sure that every local area is thinking about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people when they are making their healthcare plans, so no one is left behind."

Recommendation: The Equality and Human Rights Commission should conduct a formal inquiry under section 16 of the Equality Act 2006 into how Joint Strategic Needs Assessments are including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller health needs.

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright

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