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MPs expose shocking failure of Government to address exclusion of Gypsies and Travellers

Helen Jones's picture
By Helen Jones |  April 5, 2019 |

The Women and Equalities' Select Committee Inquiry into inequalities faced by Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people have published their report today. It is hugely welcome. We recognise the dire picture of failure, ineffectiveness and inefficiency stemming from government policy and action, or lack of action, which this damning report paints. We can only hope that it might provide the necessary prompt to government to take an honest and open look at its failings, and to initiate significant and sustained effort to amend.

By these failings civil society organisations such as Leeds GATE and others, have been obliged to attempt to fill the vacuum, at the same time as investing largely unfunded effort into raising awareness of the consequences. Having attended the governments’ cross departmental GTR liaison group for many years, we can certainly attest to the inability of Ministers and their departments to give any significant weight to our opinions and suggestions. Many, many opportunities have been lost along the way

What good practice exists, as highlighted in today’s report seems to be largely rooted in civil society action, and where most successful that practice, has been developed by local Gypsy Traveller people engaging in partnerships with trusted local statutory or other services. There are shining examples of local authorities and health providers doing the right thing and achieving improvement, despite complete lack of leadership from above. Though as the report notes, the short term nature of much of the investment is hugely damaging to long term outcomes being achieved.

We can only hope that the government, in seeking to address its failings, will recognise, respect and draw on the assets and understanding of Gypsy Traveller civil society groups and individuals and their local partners. We know what needs to be done, we have many positive policy and practical suggestions to make; we need to be heard. Perhaps the select committee report is what we need to amplify those community and local voices so far largely unheard or responded to by Government.

Politicians must surely take some great responsibility for the persistence of pernicious exclusion of Gypsy and Traveller people. The attitudes displayed and language used in the recent Home office and MHCLG response to last summers’ consultation concerning unauthorised encampment provides a prime example of how little heed Ministers are prepared to give to the consequences of its own actions. Indeed the impression of Gypsy Traveller people as simply a 'problem' to be resolved by rapid removal and assimilation stems precisely from the words of such as James Brokenshire MP, Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP and Andrew Selous MP We are left with no confidence whatever that even the esteemed select committee will be heard, particularly given the political capital regularly made by politicians from demonising Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people. It is nigh on impossible to imagine them, especially in these politically febrile times, change tack towards ongoing respect and inclusion now.

In this context above it is surprising that the one MHCLG action which we are able to fully support and endorse is their support for the GATE Herts Hate Crime project work. It is ironic and sad to observe this effective and vital work being undermined by the public statements of the Home Secretary and Secretary of State as noted above. Until Ministers resolve the tension between their own public statements and political actions, and the need to make progress on improving outcomes for marginalised and excluded people, the rest of us are going to continue to struggle.

The only part of today's report we would take any significant issue is its narrow focus on the impact on the aspirations and wellbeing of women and girls apparently resulting from gendered roles within communities, and from service behaviour which reinforces and substantiates them. We accept that a rigidly applied gendered approach can be damaging. However, such damage consequential from gendered expectations are not limited to impact on women and girls, but affects the aspirations and wellbeing of boys and men, as well as LGBT community members of all genders. We would have wished the recommendations made on this topic to be inclusive of all.

The report clearly explains why the committee did not, in their inquiry, explore issues of accommodation. This is well argued and we would support its omission within this document. However, this issue of accommodation remains, perhaps more than any other, a major barrier to improvement in outcomes for Gypsy and Traveller (and in a different way, Roma people). Perhaps it is now time for the Housing Select Committee to pick this issue up in such a serious and diligent way as the Women and Equalities Select Committee has done.


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