Social Welfare Lawyers in the Centre of Birmingham

Impact of Insecure Accommodation and the Living Environment on Gypsies’ and Travellers’ Health

This important report commissioned by the National Inclusion Health Board of the Department of Health and written by the Traveller Movement and Bucks New University has just been published. It provides an important up to date position on this subject. Here are some useful extracts from the report:

Current and historical accommodation insecurity negatively impacts on Gypsies and Travellers physical and mental health. Effectively addressing accommodation insecurity/provision of sites will have a direct and positive ‘knock-on’ effect not just on community members’ health, but also on the wider social determinants that impact on their intergenerational health and wellbeing (education, employment etc). Unauthorised and authorised sites for Gypsies and Travellers (including local authority owned and run) are all too often situated in environments which promote poor health (busy roads, beside heavy industry etc). Improving the environmental health factors of existing sites and promoting appropriate future development of Traveller sites will improve health outcomes in the long-term (p.1).

Poorer general health: 66% of the sample reported having bad, very bad or poor health. This figure is significantly higher than findings from the Census (which reported that 70% of respondents had ‘good’ or ‘very good’ health) and the University of Sheffield (2004) report (in which 49.9% of respondents indicated that they had bad or very bad health) possibly reflecting this study’s focus on insecurity and poor living conditions.


Private sites, healthier sites: Even where their planning status was precarious, residents at private sites (generally with long-term residents and on-going neighbourhood contact in school and community settings) were more likely to report good or fair health compared to those at local authority or unauthorised tolerated/roadside sites. Those at private sites with planning permission were most likely to report good or very good health as well as higher levels of satisfaction with their surroundings.

Mental health and insecurity: 39% of the sample reported suffering from anxiety or depression. The majority of these respondents were either living in conditions where they felt deeply insecure as a result of their planning status, threat of eviction and/or poor site conditions; or were living in ‘bricks and mortar’ accommodation which they had accepted reluctantly in the absence of a pitch on a Traveller site (p.2).

Accommodation insecurity increases racial discrimination: 63% of respondents indicated that they had experienced some form of harassment or racism as a result of their ethnicity. Those living in the most vulnerable circumstances (tolerated and not tolerated unauthorised sites, on the roadside) were the most likely to experience discrimination and racially motivated crime. Interviewees described a variety of negative health impacts as a result of this (anxiety, depression, as well as more direct physical complications resulting from forced frequent movement and limited access to services which exacerbated existing conditions such as diabetes, kidney complications etc).

Secure accommodation reduces discrimination: The study found that the longer-established and more secure a site, the lower the likelihood of respondents experiencing discrimination and overt abuse in their immediate environment (p.4).

A community of carers: 42% of respondents were involved in helping to care for immediate household members or wider family on site or in the immediate vicinity who had severe long-term conditions or were disabled. This is significantly above the rate found in mainstream populations as reported in the census finding (ONS 2014) and reflects cultural values common to Gypsies and Travellers and significant cost-savings to local authority and health services who would otherwise need to engage with delivering care to vulnerable individuals (p.5).

Amongst the recommendations, with regard to accommodation, are the following:

1. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)  should gather robust national data on the provision of new pitches on Traveller sites to ensure its policies are effectively and consistently addressing the national shortage of sites as identified by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC):

2.  DCLG should consider reinstating a duty on local authorities to provide sites for Gypsies and Travellers where a need has been identified. This would address the root cause of unauthorised sites and encampments which too often have a negative impact on these communities’ health and wellbeing. This has been the approach of the Welsh Assembly who in September 2014 introduced such a duty:

3. DCLG, the Local Government Association and other relevant bodies such as London Councils should promote local authority use of Negotiated Stopping Places based on the model successfully piloted by Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange and Leeds City Council. Use of such options are both low-cost and effective in reducing tensions and ensuring access to services including much needed health provision (p.5).

There is also a very useful analysis of previous literature on this and related topics. We are sure that Gypsy and Traveller support and campaigning groups and representatives will find this report extremely useful.

CLP January 2016