Govt's racist traveller policies

Tony Gosling tony at
Tue Jul 23 17:59:31 BST 2002

'This government press release contravenes the race relations act'

Government policy: racist posturing 

The following is written by Rachel Morris, Co-ordinator of the Traveller
Law Reserch Unit. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily
reflect those of other Unit staff, Unit funders, Cardiff Law School or
Cardiff University.

The 'Gypsy' style is in right now, according to a great many fashion mags,
but in all other and less superficial ways Gypsies and other Travellers are
right out. On Friday 5 July 2002 the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister
and the Home Office jointly issued a racist press release about a racist
and hackneyed 'policy', which described itself as 'radical' and 'fair'.

The policies were tried 30 years ago and didn't work. The policy of blanket
evictions from an area following minimum site provision is a form of quota
formerly known, under the 1968 Caravan Sites Act as 'designation' (or, in
South Africa, as 'apartheid'). This is illegal and racist, which is
precisely why the Northern Ireland government rescinded designation there
in 1997. The Government are, to be charitable, disingenuous if they seek to
convince the settled population, including those who have genuinely had
negative experiences with the minority of Travelling People who do cause
problems, that their 'policy' will end them.

The best way to reduce encampments is to ensure that there are sufficient,
lawful and appropriate stopping places. The only way to get sites built is
to create a political climate in which settled people won't react in a
negative, knee-jerk fashion at the mere suggestion of a site being within
15 miles of them, but who will be made to realise that - whether they like
it or not - they must respect diversity and the legality and legitimacy of
the nomadic way of life. The government has defeated its own proposed
'policy' before it has even begun by (as other governments before it for
500 years) sending a message to settled society that it's okay to be
horrible to and about Travelling People, regardless of what they're like as
individuals, purely because of their membership of a group. No sites can be
built now. Racism rules ok.

Yes there are some Travelling People who aren't, to say the least, much fun
to be around. I defy you to find any sector of society which doesn't have
its share. (From crooked corporate fatcats - Enron, anyone? - to the nice,
middle class, respectable people in my park-rich neighbourhood who are too
squeamish and irresponsible to clear up after their pets). But ample and
well-worn laws exist to deal with them: if there is a ongoing and unmanaged
behaviour problem (and senior police officers assure me that they have no
more and no less trouble with Travelling People than from any other groups
in the UK) then it is not a Traveller problem, it is a policing problem.
And the behaviour of individuals is not the same thing as having
unauthorised encampments on highly visible and unsuitable locations because
the adults and children concerned have nowhere else to stop.

Both the tenor of the release, and the contents of its ill-thought-out
'policies', contravene the Race Relations Act 1976 (as amended, 2000). The
Home Office is not only bound by the provisions of the Act - as are all
Ministers of the Crown and government departments - but oversee them. This
development would therefore be ironically comical if it weren't so
appalling, cheap and retrograde. In treating accommodation for Travelling
People in such a vastly different way than that for settled people, the
ODPM is directly discriminating against Gypsies and Irish Travellers. This
is illegal. In sending out a press release which elides issues of
criminality and bad behaviour with those of accommodation, and which
implies that worse behaviour can be expected of Gypsies and Travellers in
general than other groups in society, both departments breach the positive
duty they have recently placed upon themselves to eliminate unlawful
discrimination; to promote equal opportunities; and to promote good race
relations between people from different racial groups. The Government
states in the release that all people should have regard for the law. This
would appear not to include the Government. Further details of this
pandering populism dressed as 'policy' and my objections to it are on
Epolitix (search with keywords 'Traveller law').

Aside from Epolitix the UK media's response has been to repeat the press
release verbatim, then drop the story altogether. Imagine this for a
moment: that the press release has suggested that appropriate accommodation
for black people will henceforth be met piecemeal out of existing budgets,
dependent on the 'tackling' of / a 'clamp down' on Yardi gangsters, and has
implied that all black people are Yardis. Or imagine the announcement runs
that the number of Asian people permitted to live in Bradford is to be
restricted, and that it's time to get tough on them because they're all
violent rioters, man woman and child. Would the Guardian's Society section
still say, on a Monday morning, that it's too late now to put in a piece on
Wednesday and, in any event, they did a piece on Pakistanis just a few
weeks ago? Would the Commission for Racial Equality stay so shamingly
silent? Would the Government still be standing?

The Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of
National Minorities at the Council of Europe has recently published its
report on the UK in which it 'notes with concern that many of the Roma /
Gypsies and Irish Travellers face considerable socio-economic difficulties
in comparison to both the majority and other national minorities, in
particular in the fields of education, health, employment and housing,
including the availability of stopping sites (examined further under
Article 5)'. The Committee then states that 'This situation is recognised
by the United Kingdom Government'. (I'm not convinced, to be frank). The
negative impact of eviction on education, and racist reporting of
Travelling People by the UK press also feature. Considering what a small
proportion of the minority ethnic population of the UK are represented by
Travelling People, they are mentioned disproportionately frequently.


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