Gypsy problem or a problem with gypsies?

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Gypsy problem or a problem with gypsies?

Post by The Optimist on Wed Feb 04, 2009 4:30 pm

I’ve just read the latest ‘Newsletter’ circulated around the village this evening. Firstly I would like to commend the importance that the group gives to freedom of speech. I would therefore expect that what I am about to say will not be censored, and my user profile will not be banned. After all, “he does not believe who does not live according to his belief.”

I think we will all agree that there is a serious problem nationally with gypsies and travellers, but where we may differ in opinion is that the crux of the problem is that there are not enough authorised sites.

I don’t know how many of you know the history of Gypsy policy in the last 50-years, so here’s a brief summary:

1960: Caravan Sites Act (restricts land use)
1965: First official count
1968: Caravan Sites Act (compelled councils to provide sites)
1994: Criminal Justice Act (repeals '68 act, introduces new eviction powers)
1994: New guidance to encourage Gypsies to buy own land
2003: Anti-Social Behaviour Act (new eviction powers)

You’ll notice that in 1968 MPs won government backing to compel local authorities to provide caravan sites, a huge victory for Gypsy campaigners.

Experts had said land once used by Gypsies was disappearing, increasing the likelihood of conflict with residents and local councils.
In 1994 the Tories repealed the obligation of local councils to provide sites for travellers. It is now estimated that Britain is short of about 3,500 sites for the 300,000-odd strong Romany and travelling population (most of whom live permanently in one place). Travellers have been forced to move across the country and sometimes camp illegally. It’s worth noting that this was towards the end of a string of bad changes to the Housing Policy that the Tories made including the ‘Right to Buy’ (1980) which has left councils with such small social housing supplies that homelessness has increased as a result.

The prejudice suffered by gypsies and travellers is largely down to 2 main fears; crime and sanitation, and I would like to challenge these misconceptions individually:

Firstly; crime. People often fear that gypsies = crime, and this is backed up by evidence of crime figures rising over periods where gypsies have made camp in an area. What people fail to realise is that study of crime figures in areas of authorised gypsy sites do not show this rise. Therefore there is a difference between un-authorised sites and authorised sites. It is thought that a sense of belonging (as, contrary to popular belief, many gypsies stay in one location once settled) has a positive social effect. You are all welcome to research this yourselves.

Secondly; sanitation. Many people have seen the effects of gypsy sites once the site is vacated, and it’s not pretty. On top of that it costs taxpayers' money to clean up the mess. The evidence suggests that the reason for this is, again, a lack of authorised sites. The great majority of gypsies must camp illegally without sanitary, water or refuse disposal facilities. They endure this situation on the whole with rather more fortitude than the public whose sensibilities they offend. With this in mind it is no wonder that a mess is left. What else can they do? Authorised sites have the necessary facilities and it is observed from established sites that these sites are kept clean and tidy. The simple reason for this is again, self-belonging. How many of you leave a hotel room untidy? Because it’s not your home you don’t have to return to it and someone else will clean it up. In your own home you know you have to return to the mess and therefore keep it tidy and clean. It’s the same principle when comparing unauthorised and authorised gypsy sites and I hope members of this group acknowledge the differences between these two things.

The problems are getting worse and it’s largely down to the afore-mentioned shortage of some 3,500 pitches, which roughly equates to the number of families living in unauthorised encampments. These are people that have to live somewhere and being forced to live on unauthorised sites is not just having a negative impact on their health and life chances, but it just keeps bringing them into conflict with the settled community. This conflict over decades has brought around British society’s last socially acceptable prejudice. The last bastion of racism.

Prejudice against gypsies and travellers is a complex issue. Anti-gypsy racism is very deep rooted. It is a form of racism that is a systematic prejudice and discrimination against a distinct group of people. It is partly that gypsies, Romany and non-Romany, have remained “unassimilated” for centuries, in those countries where they live. That is partly because of the prejudice they have faced. Though the gypsies were victims of the extermination programme of the Nazis, this reality has never been adequately discussed in western societies. Anti-gypsy racism therefore remains a norm, a “respectable” racism.

Politicians of all stripes are very reluctant to do anything about this. Bowing as usual to the prejudice they helped to create, both the Government and local councils view the issue as “too controversial”, they do not want to stand up to racism and xenophobia against gypsies. So they pass the buck.

That’s why I personally commend Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council for being brave enough to do something about the issue. Take a moment to think about what H&B has to gain from the site. Nothing. In fact they have more to lose than to gain. The Councillors are elected bodies and there is precious little electoral advantage for councils in providing a site and there are strong incentives to procrastinate and to hope that the problem will simply go away. They will also have harder jobs to do in monitoring and enforcing site rules and regulations.

I think it’s important for people to consider the wider issue and try to throw off this ‘not in my back yard’ attitude. It’s important for people to re-assess what may be inherited deep prejudices and look at the facts before making a decision on this issue. For those of you still reading; thank you and I hope you will consider some of these points before making your own opinions, to which we are all entitled.

A. Miller

The Optimist

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Re: Gypsy problem or a problem with gypsies?

Post by Phil R on Thu Feb 05, 2009 7:36 am

A well thought-out, well written piece and welcome on this site.

I think most people would accept what you say about travellers requiring somewhere to stay. I don't think many people expect them to be on the road 24/7.

The issue we have around here is that we simply don't have the facilities to cope with our current population, never mind a transit site or a residential site for travellers OR, indeed, 109 new houses.

Government guidelines say travellers sites should be within easy reach of educational, healthcare and dental services. The fact is, we don't have the services available for over half our current population - so how will no educational or special needs facilities, no dental care (especially for kids) and no healthcare help travellers? And we've not even started on the unsuitability of the proposed locations from a health and safety point of view!

You're right. Hinckley and Bosworth have had this onerous task foisted on them by Government - together with finding new housing developments. Our issue is that the council is not doing a very good job of carrying out the task. Its proposals are ill-conceived, impractical and have been very badly presented.

Phil R

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Re: Gypsy problem or a problem with gypsies?

Post by The Optimist on Thu Feb 05, 2009 4:47 pm

I agree that the task was carried out badly, with no consultation. I also agree that Groby needs no further strain on its services. Personally though, I believe that 109 new houses (and more to follow most likely) will put more strain on the services that the gypsy sites and therefore think that the group's main focus should be to block such developments.

I do think it's worth noting, though, that every village, town and city in England, these days, is saturated. People living anywhere would be upset by additional (and supposed excessive) strain on local services. It just keeps bringing us back the issue of 'If not here, then where?’

This brings me to my final point. Another focus for this group should be to try to win a dedication of funding investment in local services. I understand the proposals do promise improvement of GP services and play areas, but this would not be enough. Schools would need expansion and further staff etc. There are even issues of local employment.

The main flavour of the group seems to be the gypsy site, and blocking it. I'm not sure if it's the best way, or the way most likely to produce the results most of you seem to be after.

The Optimist

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