“A Government review into unauthorised sites is pointless without the political will to solve root causes”

20 April 2018
Jim Davis ESJU Traveller Movement government unauthorised site review

Romany Gypsy Jim Davies from the Traveller Movement says the government MUST look at negotiated stopping solutions in their review of unauthorised camps and developments.

Before one Gypsy, Roma and Traveller-specific inquiry closes, another Gypsy, Roma and Traveller-specific review opens… writes Jim Davies.

The Women and Equalities committee’s inquiry into ‘tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities’ has barely even begun, let alone concluded; but, already the Government have launched yet another review into Gypsies and Travellers.

This time, it’s looking at unauthorised sites and how they can be ‘dealt’ with.

closed transit site in wiltshire
Where will they go? Councils are closing transit sites - not building more. A closed transit site in Wiltshire (c) Mike Doherty

The review has two parts to it: Firstly, it will look at how unauthorised sites can be moved on quicker or, in Housing Minister Dominic Raab’s words, more “efficiently”. Secondly, it will look at the barriers to the provision of authorised sites.

Through taking this two-pronged approach, the Government are trying to send out a politically correct message; that they are fair, that they are equal in their approach and concern towards settled and Travelling communities. Sadly, this is not currently true.

Force and legal action against Gypsies and Travellers comes first, then genuine improvement for Gypsies and Travellers second – if at all?

Firstly, the order of announcement betrays their message: According to the Government press release, the consultation will cover “police and local authority powers, court processes, Government guidance, the provision of legal sites, and the impact on settled and nomadic communities”. In that order.

It’s hard to read this list in any other way but as a list of priorities, from most prioritised to the least. Force and legal action against Gypsies and Travellers first, then genuine improvement for Gypsies and Travellers second.

Ultimately, the Government’s willingness to ‘deal’ with unauthorised sites through tough new powers is what they want to highlight. And indeed, much of the news coverage upon announcement of this review emphasised excitedly the new powers that will be given to police and local authorities, whilst the plans to look at provision of authorised sites were left in the shadows, as always.

This emphasis on new powers for the ‘efficient’ removal of unauthorised sites is poorly misguided. Local authorities and the police can already move Traveller sites on if needed. Ensuring they can move them on faster, or with more force, is not the answer.

The only thing that will solve the issue of unauthorised sites is the provision of new, authorised ones. In other words, the interests of settled and Travelling communities are not at odds with each other (as they are so often seen to be); they are in fact in harmony. It’s a shame that this isn’t made clearer by Government ministers.

Asking for the ‘efficient’ removal of people when providing no other solution is simply immoral
Dominic Raab

Dominic Raab, the housing minister who announced this review, needs to acknowledge that by calling these sites ‘illegal’, he is criminalising the people who live on them, for the simple reason that they have nowhere else to go. Asking for the ‘efficient’ removal of people when providing no other solution is simply immoral. Rather than using incriminating language towards Gypsies and Travellers, he should be highlighting that solving problems for Gypsies and Travellers will be solving problems for all.

The Government need to act. Reviews, consultations and inquiries are all well and good if there is evidence that they are willing to actually implement the recommendations that come out of a review. Otherwise, these reviews become simply smoke and mirrors.

(Picture: Dominic Raab Housing Minister by Chris McAndrew)

Leeds GATE Negotiated stopping
Children play on a negotiated stopping site in Leeds – this is a solution that has saved Leeds City Council nearly a quarter of a million pounds in clean up and legal fees

The Government needs to look at implementing nationally the negotiated stopping model piloting in Leeds at the moment, which has been very successful. According to LeedsGATE, it has saved the local council £230,000 two years in a row and has effectively diffused much of the tension that usually comes with unauthorised sites.

This consultation needs to truly focus on solving the barriers faced in building more sites. The fact that the Government’s own studies have shown that 80% of settled persons applications are generally approved, but 90% of Traveller persons applications are rejected shows there’s something very dangerously wrong going on here. Why has this been allowed to happen for so long?

And last, but by no means least, the Government needs to work on addressing the pervasive discrimination experienced by Gypsies and Travellers across the board. Anti-Gypsyism is the ‘Last Acceptable Form of Racism’, as highlighted in a Traveller Movement report last year; 91% of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers that took part reported being a victim of discrimination at some point in their lives.

This will dissolve tensions in the long run and these tensions are just one of the barriers to building new sites; the huge opposition to any proposals for Traveller sites from the settled population is a huge and significant barrier and misconceptions need to be addressed.

It’s an old adage, but this Government will truly be judged on the actions it takes in ‘tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities’; not just the inquiries, consultations, reviews or audits that happen under its premiership.

By Jim Davies, manager of the Equalities and Social Justice Unit at the Traveller Movement.

Read more of Jim Davies’ blogs by following these links:

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