Social Welfare Lawyers in the Centre of Birmingham

National Roma Integration Strategies

In March 2018 the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, Friends Families and Travellers, the Roma Support Group and Roma Community Care produced a very important report on the above issue (Civil society monitoring report on implementation of the national Roma integration strategies in the United Kingdom). Here are some extracts from that report and you can find a copy of the report at the following link:-

The United Kingdom Government has still not established a National Roma Integration Strategy despite both a number of recommendations in international treaties (which urge the UK Government to do so) and repeated questions by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller NGOs.  The UK Government continued to hold to the position that mainstream laws and policies already offered protection to GRT populations and will in themselves promote integration – although this is not the experience of community members and their representative organisations interviewed for both the 2014 and current reports. Accordingly, GRT communities continue to be marginalised, with attempts to meet their needs and foster their integration being piecemeal and poorly funded….

The 2011 Census included, for the first time, a “Gypsy or Irish Traveller” ethnic group category, but there was no specific category for “Roma” although “Roma” is among four potential additional categories for the 2021 [Census].  It is evident that there is inconsistency in data collection with regard to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in official data sets (p7).

The only clear Roma Integration Strategy to date has come from the Welsh Government, who recently undertook a consultation on whether specific proposals are required to support the inclusion of migrant Roma (p16).

The situation [with regard to the definition of Gypsy/Traveller] has now even worsened compared to… the definition from the Circular 1/2006 on Planning for Gypsy and Traveller Caravan Sites [which] was changed so that Gypsy and Traveller people cannot express the desire to live permanently on their own land – the words “and permanently” have been removed from that 1/2006 definition.  This revised definition has a very detrimental effect in that Romany Gypsy people or Irish Travellers who may lead a more settled existence, are denied the prospect of pursuing careers of a professional nature, thereby effecting the career choice in younger people (e.g. doctor or solicitor), as they would then be deemed not to be Gypsies for the purposes of planning law.  It does potentially force individuals to choose between living traditionally with their family or having to move into a house to pursue their desired employment.  This is a very difficult decision for those with elder parents and/or relatives.  This policy does restrict the community to low paid manual work (pp23-24).

While there has been little research into the accommodation needs and experiences of Roma communities, it is evident that Roma are often located in poor and deprived areas and because of the shortage of social housing, tend to end up renting in the private sector, with unscrupulous landlords charging Roma tenants high rent for low quality and overcrowded accommodation.  Government policies are often making it worse.  For example, lack of access to Housing Benefit means that families are often forced to live in the cheapest housing in [overcrowded] conditions as they cannot afford higher rates (p27).

Further to this, recent reports from Friends, Families and Travellers illustrate the difference between MHCLG and Homes and Community Agency’s (HCA) reported numbers of new socially rented pitches and actual number of new pitches.  Key findings include:-

• There has been only a 2% increase in socially rented pitches between 2010 and 2017; an insufficient number to address even natural growth through household formation, let alone a historic lack of pitches for Gypsy and Traveller families

• The government reported an increase of 551 affordable pitches for Gypsies and Travellers between 2012 and 2017 but the actual figure is no more than 339

• 60% of caravans in the July 2017 national caravan count were on unauthorised land, largely as a result of the chronic shortage of Gypsy and Traveller sites…

• Gypsy and Traveller families who do not have access to sites due to the national shortage can also struggle to access clean water, sewage disposal and electricity.  This issue is rarely discussed and therefore is to an extent made invisible (p28).

Amongst the recommendations in the report is one relating to Legal Aid:-

A Review of recent changes in Legal Aid is needed.  Cases including housing and immigration are in relation to some of the most vulnerable families and they have been left with little justice (p37).

We recommend that people read this important report.