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Brief introduction to the Roma and
Travellers in the UK
Between 120 00 and 300,000 Gypsies and
Travellers are estimated to live in Britain today
(it makes the population of Gypsies and Travellers as large
as the Bangladeshi community).
Travellers can be divided into two groups:
Ethnic Groups Non ethnic Travellers
Romani Gypsies New Travellers
Irish Travellers Showmen
Roma immigrants (they have
come to Britain from long-settled
communities in Eastern Europe)
French Manush Gypsies
The Nomadic lifestyle
Around half of Gypsies and Travellers nowadays live in houses.
The other half live in caravans on private caravan sites, public (council)
caravan sites and on unauthorized encampments wherever they can find land
that is suitable.
There is no one Gypsy and Traveller culture, just as there is no
single Gypsy and Traveller community. But most Gypsies and
Travellers have certain cultural things in common, which have
evolved over time in response to the conditions created by life on
the road ( the characteristic of being a minority or being oppressed
by a dominant group within a large community.
Gypsies are foreign. Much Gypsies and Travellers have been
media coverage talks of Gypsies part of British society for over 500
and Travellers “invading” places.
Gypsies are dirty. Gypsy culture is built upon strict codes of
cleanliness learnt over centuries of life on the
road. Concepts such as mokadi and mahrime
place strict guidelines, for example, on what
objects can be washed in what bowls. Gypsies
view gorgias (non-Gypsies) as unclean because
of the way they live. For example, Gypsies and
Travellers rarely let animals inside their homes,
because they believe them to be carriers of
Gypsies are criminal. Members of the Gypsy Roma
Travellers communities are
statistically under represented in
the main stream prison
population. Just as in any other
ethnic minority, some Roma are
involved in crime. But Roma and
Travellers say they have been
criminalized by laws created to
curtail their traditional lifestyle.
All Gypsies live in caravans 90% of Gypsies across the world
now live in houses. Being
nomadic is more common in
Western Europe. But even here
only 50% of Gypsies live in
Gypsies do not pay tax. Traditionally many Gypsies Roma
and Travellers are self-employed
and pay tax like anybody else.
Gypsies and Travellers are work shy. There is a strong work ethic in the
Gypsy culture, based on the need
Gypsy and Traveller often start
Tradional skills are passed down
to the next generation.
Problems faced by the Roma and
Traditionally, Travellers were able to stop on commons and
green verges, which are commonly know as ‘traditional stopping
places.’ But most of these traditional stopping places have now been
closed off through ditching, gating and bunding (creating large earth
embankments). This forces Travellers onto less suitable pieces of land
such as parks and playing fields and brings them into conflict with
people in houses.
-There are a significant number of Travellers who have no legal place to stay -
perhaps as many as 15-20,000 people (made up of about 10,000 Traditional
Travellers and 3,000 new Travellers).
-A third of the nomadic Roma and Traveller population is homeless (Under the
Housing Act 1996, a Gypsy or Traveller is homeless if s/he does not have a
lawful place to put his or her caravan or living vehicle.)
-90% of planning applications by Travellers are rejected, compared to a
national average of 20% overall
-No access to permanent pitches on authorised sites can lead Travellers to
move into houses
A lot of Travellers view housing as a last resort and a desperate measure
brought about by the high levels of stress that are often experienced by
members of this community.
-A move into house can lead to severe depressions
-Moving in a house can engender victimisation, discrimination and
harassment from the neighbourhood.
-Moving in a house means isolation from the highly supportive and secure
extended family groups and communities.
A difficulty to adapt:
Roma and Traveller communities were once a crucial and vibrant part
of The agricultural economy. However, it is now largely mechanised or
dependant on cheap Eastern European labour. Activities such as old
trades like knife grinding and horse-dealing have very little relevance
to the modern information economy.
It is significantly lower than average; a Traveller man’s life expectancy
is around 10 years less than a man in the Settled population; a
Traveller woman’s life expectancy is reduced by around 12 years.
Health problems amongst Gypsy Travellers are between two and five
times more common than the settled community. They have the
poorest health outcomes even among the other minority groups in
Gypsy Travellers are more likely to be anxious, have breathing
problems and chest pain. They are also more likely to suffer from
miscarriages, still births, the death of young babies and older children.
-The blatant discrimination, bad communication with and ignorance about
Gypsies and Travellers within the healthcare system
-Traveller’s attitudes to health including a traditional belief in relying on
your self or family, suspicion of health services and a belief that treatment
won’t do any good anyway.
-The effect that lack of access to education and decent accommodation
has on Gypsy and Traveller health.
- Roma and Traveller is the ethnic minority which suffers from the
highest rates of illiteracy.
-Traveller children are most at risk of failure by 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%.
-Discrimination: they are bullied by pupils and staff.
-Fear: The parents of today’s young Gypsies and Travellers (many of
whom received little or no schooling) are suspicious of what comes with
education. They see school as a source of what can only be described
as ”gorgification” ( becoming like a non-Gypsy): a process that weakens
Gypsy and Traveller identity and values.
-Cultural reasons: Gypsies and Travellers do not value formalised
education as highly as the settled population because they expect to be
discriminated against in the labour market and so, they value forms of
self-employment much more highly than formal education and
-Economic reasons: teenage Traveller girls are often expected to help at
home or with caring for their younger siblings and teenage Traveller boys
are often expected to be working with their fathers receiving in effect an
apprenticeship in how to earn a living.
Winning the war against travellers
Knife wielding youths attack gypsies in Hyde Park
Beware of working travellers warning
Travellers need to clear off
Police warn landowners over travellers
The sedentary population always expresses a lot of fear before the
installation of a site in the neighborhood.
However, this is often due to a lack of knowledge.
Once sites have been established, many of the fears expressed by
the sedentary neighbors dissipate and their experience of problems or
conflicts are far fewer than they had anticipated.
-Gypsies and Travellers already with a tradition of setting their own
business took advantage of the mobile phone technology to develop
businesses such as fixing houses, plumbing etc
-Some of the traditional works are still relevant today such as
collecting and selling scrap metal.
Health has always been important to Gypsies and Travellers. An old
Gypsy proverb says Gypsies value three things: freedom, health and
love, for without freedom there can be no health and without health love
cannot be enjoyed.
Not having access to public health services has led Gypsies and
Travellers to develop strict rules of conduct around cleanliness.
A traveller has a carbon footprint six times less than settled individuals.