Social Welfare Lawyers in the Centre of Birmingham

Tackling Inequalities Faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities

This is the long awaited report from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee which was published on 5 April 2019. Below we have some quotes (in italics) and some comments from us. CLP in conjunction with Ruston Planning made submissions to the Committee but, since our submissions centred on accommodation issues for those who live in caravans, we were wasting our breath apparently (see below).

In the Report summary it is stated:

The Committee did not set out to tackle issues relating to Traveller sites or encampments but to tackle a wide range of other policy issues often eclipsed by issues of accommodation. Given that three in four Gypsies and Travellers live in non-caravan accommodation, we are deeply concerned that Government policy-making is overwhelmingly focused on planning and accommodation issues.

Comment:

While we fully appreciate the need to address the inequalities faced by Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in housing and whilst we fully support the recommendations of the Committee (quoted below), we are very disappointed with the failure to address the dire accommodation needs for those living in caravans. Large numbers of the Gypsy and Traveller community are still having to resort to unauthorised encampments and unauthorised developments due to the failure of central and local government to ensure that there is adequate site provision. We believe that all Gypsy and Traveller support and campaigning groups recognise that, if you deal with the accommodation problems, this will inevitably lead to improvements in education, health and employment outcomes. An opportunity to drive that point home by this very influential committee has been missed.

Additionally we wish the Government really were ‘overwhelmingly focused on planning and accommodation issues’. The Government seems to be mainly interested in increasing enforcement powers ( see: http://www.communitylawpartnership.co.uk/news/all-we-need-are-sites ).

Nevertheless, as we say above, we welcome the recommendations in this report and congratulate the Committee and those who assisted the Committee for their hard work in producing this very comprehensive document.

Government policy

We recommend that the Cabinet Office create a specific workstream within the Race Disparity Unit for eliminating Gypsy and Traveller inequalities. The Unit should work closely across Government departments to ensure that the “explain or change” process is completed promptly and that every Government department has a strategy to tackle Gypsy and Traveller inequalities that are uncovered. Each department should have a strategy in place before the end of 2019. Because of a lack of statistical data, disparities that have been uncovered in academic research must be incorporated into this work and included as part of the Race Disparity Audit programme. (Paragraph 41)

Data gaps

Gypsy, Irish Traveller and Roma categories should be added to the NHS data dictionary as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 49)

The Race Disparity Unit should review all the Government and public datasets that currently do not use the 2011 census ethnicity classifications and require their use before the end of 2019. (Paragraph 50)

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should work with grassroots Gypsy, Roma and Traveller organisations to formulate a wide-ranging campaign to explain the importance of collecting such data and to encourage self-disclosure. (Paragraph 53)

Education

The Department for Education should carry out a complete audit of all local authorities to ensure that they have robust policies and procedures on children potentially missing from education, as required by section 436A of the Education Act 2006 and the Government’s own “Children Missing Education Guidance”. Any local authorities that are found to have inadequate processes should be required to remedy them within six months of the audit. The audit should also inspect the procedures that authorities have in place for ensuring that home educated children are receiving a “suitable” education, including effective mechanisms for taking action under section 437 of the Education Act. (Paragraph 66).

The need for reform affects all home educated children but Gypsy and Traveller children are more likely to be withdrawn from education. We agree with Children’s Commissioner that families that are home educating need more oversight from local authorities. We also recommend that council officers should be given the power and have the duty to visit children being home educated at least once per school term to assess the suitability of their education. Education should only be deemed “suitable” if it provides equal life chances to boys and girls and gives all children the necessary tools to decide on their own futures as adults. (Paragraph 67)

The Government should consider piloting a pupil passport scheme with rapid evaluation to ensure that, should it be successful, it can be rolled out as quickly as possible. At the same time, the Department for Education should explore how such a scheme could be implemented across England and what the budgetary implications would be. Such a scheme would ensure that when children move schools or move into home education, their records and history travel with them. (Paragraph 71)

Schools should, as part of their responsibilities under the Public Sector Equality Duty, be challenging race and gender stereotypes wherever they encounter them. Ofsted should ensure that inspectors are actively inspecting schools for gender and racial stereotyping or signs of sexism or racism from either pupils or staff. (Paragraph 77)

Healthcare

The Equality and Human Rights Commission should conduct a formal inquiry under section 16 of the Equality Act 2006 into how Joint Strategic Needs Assessments are including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller health needs. (Paragraph 95).

Maternity and antenatal care provide an opportunity for healthcare staff to support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women. NHS England should consider training maternity staff and pre-natal staff to enquire about, signpost and refer to services that may also be beneficial to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women, including immunisation, dental services, mental health services and sexual health checks. (Paragraph 107).

Local authorities should inspect every existing private Traveller site in their area to map which have access to a minimum standard of basic amenities and which do not. For those that do not, local authorities should place conditions upon the license to ensure that these measures are put in place or consider revoking licenses that do not comply with these conditions. This solution does not address the problem that arises when it is the local authority itself that owns the site. For this, we recommend that the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government explore methods by which local authorities can be held to account for their own sites. (Paragraph 111)

Comment:

It is unfortunate that the Committee did not point out that it may be possible for residents to take action where there is a ‘statutory nuisance’, including action against a local authority, under Environmental Protection Act 1990 s82.

Discrimination and Hate Crime

While we heard mixed evidence about the effectiveness of training, we believe that training can be effective if it goes beyond “awareness raising” and trains frontline staff on their duties under the Equality Act as well as on cultural competence. We also believe that what has been lacking in some of these organisations is a zero-tolerance approach from organisation leaders. We recommend that senior leaders in all public service bodies be trained in the Public Sector Equality Duty and that each body have a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller “champion”, similar to the role that exists in the National Police Chiefs Council. (Paragraph 148)

It is regrettable that many in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities feel that discrimination is inevitable, and they must tolerate it. The Government should work with community organisations to train Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals to understand their rights, identify discrimination and to give them the tools to take legal action to challenge discrimination. (Paragraph 150)

Comment:

It is unfortunate that the Committee did not point out the problems caused by the lack of legal aid for discrimination cases (apart from a telephone advice system which has been heavily criticised for being ineffective).

The Home Office should work with GATE Herts, with a view to creating more physical reporting sites, and should train community organisations to encourage Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people to report hate crime when it occurs. (Paragraph 157)

Comment:

All we would say here is – ‘well done, GATE Herts’!

Violence against women and girls

Local authorities should ensure that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women have access to a single, trusted contact who provides them with the information and support they need. Should this contact be from a charitable organisation, local authorities must ensure that the organisation has sufficient funding to sustain the necessary support. (Paragraph 168).

A lack of awareness of consent culture and healthy relationships is leading to domestic abuse in young Gypsy and Traveller people’s lives. Both boys and girls need to be taught what abuse is and how to challenge it. All primary schools in England should ensure that they have lessons on consent and respect included in relationship education and these messages should continue through into secondary school. Gypsy and Traveller organisations should be among groups involved in the development of these classes and could, where appropriate, deliver the lessons. (Paragraph 172).

We have heard of effective work that community organisations are doing working with Gypsy and Traveller men and women to challenge outdated attitudes towards women. The Home Office should work with these organisations with a view to funding similar programmes across the country. (Paragraph 173)

Conclusion

In conclusion, we warmly welcome this very important report and we hope that Government will take notice (at last) of the recommendations, though we are not holding our breath!! However we must repeat how disappointed we are that the very serious and continuing accommodation problems for those on unauthorised encampments and developments, at a time when the Government are trying to increase enforcement powers, have been ignored.

You can find the full report here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmwomeq/360/full-report.html