Frequently Asked Questions
Who do you mean when you speak of ‘Gypsies and Travellers’?
The expression ‘Gypsies and Travellers’ is commonly used as a catch all term for people that can include Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy Travellers, Showmen, Circus People and Roma and others. It can often be quite difficult to be sure which groups, all or only some, are being referred to when this term is used. We are trying to raise awareness and understanding so that there is more widespread understanding of the words used. Leeds GATE is a membership organisation, at GATE we generally use the term Gypsy and Traveller to describe who our membership are. The terms are used in different contexts through this website depending on whether we are speaking about Leeds GATE members, or a wider grouping. Gypsies, Scottish Gypsy Travellers and Irish Travellers are recognised ethnic minorities under UK law. Here is a more detailed Ethnicity Briefing for schools, health and other service providers.
Do all the people you work with live in caravans?
In the UK today it is estimated that two thirds of those groups of people that we collectively call ‘Gypsies and Travellers’ live in housing. A further significant portion lives on permanent sites, either privately or publicly provided. Roughly 80% of Leeds GATE’s clients live in some sort of permanent accommodation, either in houses or on sites. Of those clients who are living on the roadside, roughly a quarter might have a home base somewhere and they are travelling in pursuit of their traditional practices or for seasonal work. The remaining 75% of families on the roadside are ‘homeless’ in the familiar sense of having nowhere authorised to live in their caravans at all. We believe this last portion of our clients is in many ways the most vulnerable of all although perhaps not typical of the majority of people we work with.
Why do we still call them ‘Gypsies’ or ‘Travellers’ if they don’t ‘travel’?
Although nomadism is an important part of Gypsy and Traveller people’s culture, for many, if not most, it is now expressed via short term ‘breaks’ from their home base for example to visit annual horse fairs, or to attend family events. These days, the words ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Traveller’ describes people’s ethnic identity and culture more than their actual daily activities. It’s a name that has been used to describe ‘who we are’ for many generations. We may not be ‘travelling’ anymore but we still think of ourselves as ‘Travellers’.
Is Gypsy and Traveller health status poor because they travel, or because they live in cold caravans?
We hear that Gypsy and Traveller people suffer from poor health and struggle to access services. This leads people unfamiliar with our work to wonder if this is because they are constantly moving from place to place. As we have seen above this is very often not the case as many people have permanent accommodation, although it does cause access problems for those still highly mobile, and we must seek other explanations. Perhaps, it is suggested, the health of Gypsy and Traveller people is poor because caravans are cold. The simple answer to this is usually no because a small space is easier to heat than a large one.
Isn’t living in a caravan a ‘life style’ choice?
It is perceived that this choice is the cause of poor outcomes and therefore leads people to question why mainstream society should put resources or effort into supporting those people with specialist services. Wouldn’t it be better if those people moved into houses ‘like the rest of us’? There are a number of responses to this perception.
- Evidence of the health outcomes (for example) of Gypsy and Traveller people who live in housing is often as poor as for those living in caravans.
- Many people apart from Gypsy and Traveller people live, for all or part of the year in caravans, for example the many retired people who live in Park Homes. This does not appear to have the same consequences for their health as for Gypsies and Travellers.
- We question the perception that caravan dwelling is necessarily a ‘choice’. It is more often an inheritance which has become a defining feature of your life long before you are able to make a choice. We don’t perceive that non Gypsies make a ‘choice’ to live in houses, they just live the way their parents did. Why should there be anything wrong with living in a caravan just because it is not the ‘choice’ of most people to do it?