‘Nowhere to go’ - thousands of Gypsies and Travellers on waiting lists for homes on council Traveller sites
Thousands of Gypsy and Traveller people stuck on council Traveller site waiting lists are chasing less than 100 vacant pitches, an investigation by the charity Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT) has revealed.
The FFT research into the lack of availability of Traveller pitches in England also finds that most of the few vacant pitches are either temporary 'transit site' pitches or run down and with no services.
In a number of areas, councils highlighted the huge unmet need for new pitches. In Surrey, where there are 150 households on waiting lists for pitches, researchers were told that current sites were all doubled up and there was overcrowding. In another area, researchers heard that despite long waiting lists for sites no new pitches had become available in the past four years.
Gypsy and Traveller families have been coping with the lack of pitches by 'doubling up' and moving onto friends and families pitches meaning that Traveller sites are becoming increasingly over crowded, say FFT. Other families are coping by buying their own land and moving onto it and then facing costly planning law battles. Other families are living by the side of the road.
Mary, a Traveller from the south west of England, has been on her local council’s waiting list for a vacant pitch for over three years.
“When I was expecting my daughter, I put myself down for 2 sites in the South West,” said Mary.
“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," she added.
"The advice from the Liaison Officer was “to park up where you feel safest and where people are least likely to complain”.”
However, the option of ‘parking up’ by the side of the road may soon be closed for Mary as the Government is set to bring in new laws cracking down on unauthorised Traveller camps. Under the proposed 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.
Even the police don’t want these new laws, research launched by FFT in September 2020 shows. -Less than a quarter of police respondents to the Home Office’s consultation on the new laws agreed with the proposals to criminalise unauthorised encampments whilst almost all of police bodies called for site provision as the solution to unauthorised encampments.
Research launched by FFT in February 2020 also shows that only 8 out of 68 councils in South East England had identified enough land in their area for Travellers to live.
FFT have called on the Government to change their approach to unauthorised encampments from enforcement, to an approach which prioritises provision of sites and negotiated stopping arrangements. The charity adds 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 that Gypsies and Travellers increasingly have “nowhere to go.”:
“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,” said Sarah Sweeney.
“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.”
TT News/FFT press release
(Picture © Mary Turner)