Gypsies and Travellers have been used as a political football since time immemorial. This election campaign period has been no different; the government launched a consultation only a matter of hours before parliament dissolved. It is was blatant case of electioneering and dog whistle politics if ever there was one. The consultation is written with a clear bias - referring only to ‘offenders’ and ‘trespassers’, although clearly targeting Gypsies and Travellers - and proposes to either criminalise Traveller encampments, or increase police powers of eviction.
The language in the questions is so obtuse and leading, that navigating the consultation to submit a response supportive to Gypsy and Traveller communities is effectively discouraged. Friends, Families and Travellers has therefore written two separate guidance documents - one tailored to people from Gypsy and Traveller communities, and one for allies.
You have until the 4 March 2020 to get your voice heard on what could be some of the most harmful changes affecting Gypsies and Travellers for decades.
This consultation has been launched despite police and local authorities’ responses to the earlier consultation on the same issue 2018, which concluded that powers were sufficient and the real issue is a lack of sites for Travellers to go on. Of the 20 police forces that responded to the April 2018 consultation, 75% felt that current police powers were sufficient and/or proportionate; 84% did not support the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments and 65% said that lack of site provision was the real problem.
Existing powers of eviction are already draconian, with little time available for legal challenges. Traveller families with no site to stop on are statutorily homeless, what they need are sites (homes), not to be made criminal for following their traditional nomadic way of life. In fact The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the UK Government has a positive ‘duty to facilitate the Gypsy way of life’.
There is a huge shortage of authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers to live on, and to stop on when they are travelling. There used to be a statutory duty under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 on local authorities to provide sites and a 100% central government grant to do this. These were repealed under the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. The majority (184) of the 285 local authority sites in existence were built when this duty existed. Since the duty was repealed, 25 years ago, only an average of fewer than 3 sites a year have been built nationally.
It’s obvious that what we need are more sites for Travellers to stop on. What we really do not need are more powers created to evict people and chase them from pillar to post.
Friends, Families and Travellers tweet from @GypsyTraveller
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