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Working partnerships are key during these challenging times

By Chris Whitwell, CEO of Friends Families and Travellers

As an organisation which continues to fight for fairness and equality on behalf of Gypsies and Travellers we know first hand how important it is to work collaboratively with other organisations.

A main concern for Gypsies and Travellers is the shortage of appropriate accommodation, and to put some context to this, we don't know exactly how many Gypsies and Travellers there are in the UK because before 2011 they were not included in census statistics. However, it is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 Gypsies and Travellers in the UK (excluding newly arrived Roma from other parts of Europe).

By Chris Whitwell, CEO of Friends Families and Travellers

As an organisation which continues to fight for fairness and equality on behalf of Gypsies and Travellers we know first hand how important it is to work collaboratively with other organisations.

A main concern for Gypsies and Travellers is the shortage of appropriate accommodation, and to put some context to this, we don't know exactly how many Gypsies and Travellers there are in the UK because before 2011 they were not included in census statistics. However, it is estimated that there are between 200,000 and 300,000 Gypsies and Travellers in the UK (excluding newly arrived Roma from other parts of Europe).


Most Gypsies and Travellers live in bricks and mortar accommodation but of the 100,000 or so living in caravans and trailers between one fifth and a quarter have no legal site on which to place their home. This means that in this country in 2013 between 20,000 and 25,000 people can't actually exist anywhere legally – everywhere they stop is somewhere they are not allowed to be and they are repeatedly evicted from one place to another, often at short notice. This pointless approach of simply moving people around aimlessly is costing us an estimated £18 million per annum. It makes no sense in economic terms and in human terms it means that Gypsies and Travellers experience some of the poorest life outcomes of any BME community in the UK. Accessing basic health care can be extremely difficult, with no continuity of care, and a strong likelihood of being unable to access screening programmes. Education is equally problematic due to the difficulty of maintaining any continuity of education for kids in school, as is the pursuit of mainstream employment opportunities. Many of the basic services that most of us take for granted are simply beyond the reach of many Gypsies and Travellers.

We have been involved in responding to government regarding possible strategies to resolve these issues. We are collaborating with colleagues from other Gypsy and Traveller organisations, working together as a liaison group to put pressure on government to meet its responsibility to develop a Roma Integration Strategy as required by the European Union. The government should be responding by developing a clear strategy that assists Traveller communities to secure a proper place within mainstream society, but we are unhappy with the seeming lack of progress. There is a Ministerial Working Group chaired by Secretary of State Eric Pickles which is meant to be looking at issues relating to Gypsies and Travellers but so far they have only produced a rather disappointing progress report setting out rather half-hearted commitments for action. Despite this we are continuing an ongoing dialogue with the government to try to ensure that these commitments are met.

FFT started life in 1994 as a sort of campaigning group, mainly on behalf of New Travellers. It has undergone many changes and today our work is much more mainstream and service based. We work on behalf of all groups – Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Roma and New Travellers – although most of our service delivery today is to what might be termed ‘traditional’ Gypsies and Travellers. We help individuals and families to identify the services best suited to meet their needs and then support them to access into those services. We work with mainstream service delivery organisations to assist them to deliver more accessible and culturally appropriate services to Gypsies and Travellers, and we work with small grass roots community groups to help them to develop a stronger voice with more say over the decisions that affect their lives. An important aspect of our organisation is that we use the data, insights and knowledge from our grass roots case work directly to inform our campaigning and policy work at national level.

We believe that one of the obstacles to progress has been that issues affecting Gypsies and Travellers have been seen as a sort of self-contained bubble unconnected with the wider issues of inequality that beset our society. In recent years various reports have been published on different aspects of inequality where the inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers do not even get a mention. Until quite recently many people still didn't recognise the travelling communities as minority ethnic groups in their own right. Even today it is sometimes seen as legitimate to use perjorative language about Gypsies and Travellers in a way that would no longer be seen as acceptable if applied to any other ethnic group. We think it right that Gypsies and Travellers should be included as part of the wider movement for race equality and for greater equality within society generally.

The UK is one of the most unequal countries in Europe and if we are to bring about a more just and equal society we need to work together. Anyone who believes in equality should not just champion their own group or strand but should be prepared to stand in support of all people who experience inequality, prejudice and discrimination. This is why we were proud to become part of the Race Equality Coalition, to work alongside other groups and to achieve greater equality for all.

For more information about Friends Families and Travellers visit www.gypsy-traveller.org

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