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Lords Committee brands Government response on addressing access to public services for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities “disappointing” and demands further response

Friday 27 January 2023

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, the cross-party House of Lords Public Services Committee has called on the Government to provide a further, more detailed response on efforts it will make to adequately address the inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities in accessing public services.

The Committee raised these concerns in a letter to the Minister in May 2022 and received a response in July 2022 which it has described as “disappointingly general” because the response did not satisfactorily answer any of the questions asked or address the issues raised. 

Of significant concern to the Committee was the suggestion from the Government that putting in place or implementing cross-departmental policies specifically to tackle the vast disparities in life expectancy, and barriers to accessing public services for GRT communities would be in breach of the Equality Act 2010. 

“The Government does not believe that the allocation, provision, or quality of goods should be determined on the criteria of race, ethnicity or cultural tradition – to do so would risk violating our anti-discrimination legislation, the Equality Act.”

The Committee has asked the Government to clarify its position. 

The Committee has also asked for further information on how the Government intends to tackle a range of issues faced by the GRT community as part of its Levelling Up agenda including;    

  • An update on the allocation of funding from the Traveller Site Fund; 
  • Steps needed to promote digital inclusion by ensuring GRT communities have access to Wi-Fi, given the increasing use of online portals to access public services such as health and education; and 
  • Steps needed at both local authority and central government level to meet the needs of people from GRT groups (where these are different from the needs of others) in accessing public services. 

Baroness Armstrong, Chair of the Public Services Committee, said: 

“We have highlighted the stark inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities: including significantly lower life expectancies and other outcomes. Part of the problem is that they struggle to access basic public services such as education, social care for children, and healthcare.  

“We also look forward to receiving more detailed answers to our questions on action to address the disparities faced by the GRT community. The previous responses were unsatisfactory, to say the least. 

“We were very concerned by the wording in a letter we have received. That letter implies that tailoring services could risk breaching Equality Law. GRT communities suffer from discrimination, and poorer outcomes on a wide range of measures. The Government’s wording matters here. Any implication that action to address inequalities is illegal has a serious impact: the language could easily be applied to any community in the future. We have given the Government the opportunity to correct their position, and we hope they will take it.” 

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