Gypsies and Irish Travellers: The facts
There are not enough authorised sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers
- Local authorities used to have a legal duty to provide sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers. In 1994 this obligation was removed following the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act and, as a result, and along with a change in the use of land and more land being identified for housing, there are now too few sites to accommodate all Gypsies and Irish Travellers.
- The lack of permanent and transit sites throughout the country has forced Travellers to camp wherever they can.
The latest figures from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) for the number of caravans show that there are about 15,000 in the UK(1)
- 72% or 10,836 of these are on authorised sites (5,946 on local authority sites and 4,890 authorised private sites).
- 28% or 4,232 are on unauthorised developments or encampments - 12% or 1,855 on unauthorised developments (where Gypsies and Irish Travellers own the land but do not have planning permission) and 16% or 2,377 on unauthorised encampments (where Gypsies and Irish Travellers do not own the land and planning consent has not been given for use as a site).
- Since 1996 the number of caravans has remained fairly constant, but the number of caravans on unauthorised developments has increased, while those on unauthorised encampments has decreased.
The majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers, living on authorised sites or in houses, do abide by the planning laws
- Less than a quarter of local authorities always, or often, give advice on where to buy land for Gypsy sites, and although over two-thirds give advice at the later stage on preparing planning applications, this is often not publicised (2).
- Some Gypsies and Irish Travellers feel that the planning system is so weighted against them that they would stand a better chance of getting permission if they were already established on a site when their application was assessed.
Gypsies and Irish Travellers do work
- Traditionally finding work as licensed hawkers or pedlars, basket makers, horse dealers and seasonal argricultural labourers, many Gypsies and Irish Travellers are now landscape gardeners, tarmacers, motor trade workers, scrap metal dealers, tree fellers, and so on.
- Some are employed as teachers, academics, and health workers, while others work in the financial sector and in the sport, leisure and entertainment industries.
Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognised ethnic groups for the purposes of the Race Relations Act (1976), identified as having a shared culture, language and beliefs
- Roma are recorded in Greece and Turkey around 1000AD and in Scotland in 1505.
- 'Gypsy' is thought to be a derivative of Egyptian, which is what the settled population believed the Roma to be.
- Irish Travellers have been known as a distinct group since 400AD.
- Case law established Gypsies as a recognised ethnic group in 1988 (CRE v Dutton) and Irish Travellers in England and Wales in August 2000 (O'Leary v Allied Domecq).
Gypsies and Travellers are nomadic people
- Planning law defines Gypsies and Irish Travellers as people with a nomadic way of life.
- Whilst this is historically true, 90% of Gypsies across the world now live in houses.
- Some groups are highly mobile, moving on when work opportunities have been exhausted and others reside permanently in one area or only travel for several weeks or months of the year, returning to their home base for the winter months.
- Nomadism is more prevalent in Western Europe but even here only 50% of Gypsies live in caravans.
- Even when Gypsies and Irish Travellers live in houses their culture and heritage stays with them.
- The romantic view of horse-drawn caravans has long since passed. Gypsies and Irish Travellers now use modern, good quality vehicles and caravans and visit districts to ply their various trades.
It is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 Gypsies and Irish Travellers living in the UK(3)
The majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers live perfectly legally in trailers (caravans) on local authority owned or privately owned sites
- A minority live on the road-side and in unauthorised encampments as a result of too few legal sites.
- There are also many Gypsies and Irish Travellers living in privately owned houses or in council housing.
Gypsies and Irish Travellers do pay taxes
- All Gypsies and Irish Travellers living on a local authority or privately owned sites pay rates, rent, gas, electricity and all other associated charges, measured and charged in the same way as neighbouring houses.
- Those living on unauthorised encampments do not pay rates, but they also dont receive services.
- All are charged VAT on everything they buy.
The vast majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers seek to cause as little disruption to the lives of the settled community as possible
- Although the majority of Gypsies and Irish Travellers remove their rubbish before they move on, it has been found that where there has been a Traveller encampment there has, on occasion, been refuse and discarded household items left.
- Many councils have found that it is cost effective to provide skips and portable toilets.
- Gypsy culture is built upon strict codes of cleanliness learnt over centuries of life on the road. Concepts such as mokadi and mahrime(4) include strict guidelines. For example, dogs are not allowed in trailers or anywhere near plates or cutlery.
There is no evidence to suggest that incidence of crime is far higher amongst Gypsies and Irish Travellers
- Criminal justice agencies do not ethnically monitor Gypsies and Irish Travellers, so accurate statistics are not available.
Gypsies and Irish Travellers are more prone to ill-health
- Levels of prenatal mortality, stillbirths and infant mortality are significantly higher than the national average.
- It is estimated that, on average, Gypsy and Irish Traveller women live 12 years less than women in the general population and Gypsy and Irish Traveller men ten years less than men in the general population.(5)
Gypsy and Irish Traveller pupils in England are the group most at risk of failure in the education system
- In 2003, 23% of Roma Gypsy pupils and 42% of Irish Traveller pupils in England obtained five or more A*-C GCSEs, compared with an overall average of 51%. 22% of Roma Gypsy pupils and 17% of Irish Traveller pupils obtained no passes, compared with 6% on average. (6)
- Gypsy and Irish Traveller children, particularly those of secondary age, have much lower levels of school attendance than pupils from other groups. By Key Stage 3, it is estimated that only 15-20% of Traveller pupils are registered or regularly attend school. (7)
Notes and references
- Collated by the number of caravans or pitches, not sites.
- Common Ground: Equality, good race relations and sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers: Report of a CRE inquiry in England and Wales, CRE, 2006
- There are no official statistics, as nobody at present ethnically monitors Gypsies and Irish Travellers, except for schools.
- Central to the cultural code of many Romany communities are the concepts of romaniya (Gypsy laws), customs and marime or mokadi. Roma rely heavily on a set of rules that distinguishes between behaviour that is pure (vujo) and that is polluted (marime).
- H Crawley, IPPR, 2003
- DfES, 2004
- OFSTED, The Education of Travelling Children: a survey of educational provision for Travelling Children (1996)
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