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Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Collective punishment - barriers to pubs, post or portaloos

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  October 10, 2017 |

Stories of Gypsies and Travellers being denied services or unequal treatment are too often seen and heard.  One particular theme which cuts across many of these, from pubs to post and portaloos, is the use of collective punishment.  In such cases because of the isolated actions of one or few, many others are denied fair treatment.  It is a particularly problematic strain of the ‘tarnish with the same brush’ syndrome, which in some form always causes unjustified reputational damage to the community.  In these cases though, specific harm and practical problems arise.


Look at the postal service on Council run Traveller sites in the region, where more than one have seen suspensions or complete cessation of door to door service.  The problem has followed isolated incidents in relation to particular plots, of residents or their pets.  The key point is it unimaginable that such a collective response would be taken in any other situation, whether a residential street or multi story block.  The individuals would be focused upon alone and any appropriate punishment, if deemed unavoidable, would not impact on fellow residents.  This is all that our members would ask for; the same treatment which avoids casting blame and indeed punishment on all. 


Onto portaloos and other roadside services which have seen similar collective punishment.  Many, or indeed most, members we know strive to keep camps clear and tidy, often under difficult circumstances.  This relates to responsible use of skips and portaloos when provided.  When individuals fail to do so, the common response has been perceived by roadside families to be one of collective penalty.  Whether of threats of environmental fines or obstacles to getting these services provided in future, all are affected and not just those few responsible for any misuse.  I am not responsible for the actions of my neighbour and nor should others be; that does not seem to be the case here. 


This collective punishment can transfer to accessing more general services, such as getting into pubs or booking venues.  Too often we find that community members find themselves unable book for a birthday, charity fundraiser or funeral because of incidents in the past involving completely unconnected Gypsies and Travellers.   As with the other examples, it is not a question of denying whether these incidents occurred or even their severity but rather their relevance to other members of the community.  What again has failed to occur is an appropriate separation of those who may have been responsible for wrongdoing and may indeed deserve some form of punishment, and the many others who do not.  


In some of these cases it may in practice be difficult to identify those in the wrong.  However, it is far from impossible and the mentality that this is neither worthwhile nor necessary is deeply problematic.  Gypsies and Travellers have rights.  These cannot and should not be taken away because of the actions of another individual.  Collective punishment cannot be justified.  That does not mean it is not still happening today.   

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