We are sleepwalking into a human rights catastrophe
Date published27 January 2022LocationUKRelated professional interestEthics and human rightsSocial justice, poverty, housing and economy
By Allison Hulmes, Mairtain Moloney-Neachtain and Dr Dan Allen (GRTSW Association)
“Culture is fading because we are getting forced to leave it behind. We can’t live our way of life. They can’t provide sites; they won’t put planning on private sites through so what do they want us to do. We can’t live on side of the roads anymore; they just want us in houses. The culture of Travelling is going.”
Criminalising a tradition, culture & way of life
Part 4 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC) stands in a long line of legislation and policy specifically designed to achieve the eradication or assimilation of ethnic Gypsies and Travellers in the UK.
Part 4 of the Bill seeks to criminalise ‘unauthorised encampments’ – and when enacted will make trespass a criminal offence, increasing the powers of the police to seize vehicles, which are homes or crucial to employment.; impose fines that result in more families falling deeper into debt and poverty; or impose a prison sentence, denying families in many instances of a primary wage earner.
This racist Bill is a direct attack on the rights of Gypsies and Travellers to continue a nomadic practice that is central to Gypsy and Traveller identity and culture.
Echoes of the Porrajmos
It is the conscious and targeted impact of the Bill on ethnic Gypsies and Travellers which raises echoes of the Porrajmos – a targeting of a group, based on ethnicity as a key characteristic of identity, which is what happened to Jewish, Roma and Sinti people in the Holocaust.
The proposals in Part 4 of the PCSC Bill fail to acknowledge the fact that there is not enough site, transit or stopping place provision to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers and there are not any meaningful proposals to address this in England. Indeed, the Government’s own Consultation Paper acknowledged that the Bill will have adverse impacts on Gypsies and Travellers.
There is a campaign to support a ‘negotiated stopping places’ approach, which can help ease some of the pressures created by lack of appropriate stopping places – but this doesn’t address the racist mindset of a government that initiates abhorrent, repressive and racist laws in England and Wales.
To contextualise these initial reflections, it is important reflect on the direct and indirect damage that Part 4 of the PCSC Bill may cause. One specific example is the impact on families – undermining legal standard that the welfare of children must be paramount.
Another tool for state-sponsored violence
Throughout history, there is clear and obvious evidence that Gypsies and Travellers have been – and continue to be – strategically marginalised and controlled because of their ethnicity, customs and traditions.
Despite their protected characteristics, current public service provision limits progress to promote or develop effective working relationships in any specific agency.
Where there remains strong evidence of transgenerational trauma, born out of centuries of oppression, there remains that need to develop effective communities of practice. Instead, Part 4 of the PCSC Bill presents as the true representation of the absence of any genuine duty of care for vulnerable children.
In Figure 2 below, we illustrate the rising number of Gypsy and Traveller children living in state care in England. For reasons known only to devolved government administrations, this data is not easily accessible in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
To highlight our concerns about Part 4 of the PCSC Bill, we also include a timeline of policy concordats and events that contextualise the abhorrent, repressive, and racist actions that have taken us to the position that we find ourselves in today.
Figure 2: Timeline and illustration of the rising number of Romani and Traveller children living in State Care in England since 2009
Huge inequalities for Gypsies and Travellers
Figure 2 is based on education census data in England until 2009. Even now the classification and conflation of ethnicity ‘Gypsy/Roma’ falls behind what is required.
Directly related to the policy concordats and events listed, the 2017 Race Disparity Audit in England found huge inequalities in access to some public services for Gypsies and Travellers, particularly in education.
At the same time, the Women and Equalities Committee started a report about tackling inequalities faced by Gypsies and Traveller communities, which concluded that these inequalities persisted in education housing and health because of a reduction in effective (pro-Gypsy and Traveller) community development action.
In 2019, the English Government launched a national strategy to tackle entrenched inequality and improve the lives of Gypsy and Traveller communities, but no attention to the impact of Part 4 of the PCSC Bill is considered.
A critical juncture for public services: lessons from COVID-19 concluded that Gypsy and Traveller groups experienced significant inequalities of access to public services – but again the full impact of Part 4 of the PCSC Bill was omitted from this research.
The Bill undermines ‘levelling-up’ rhetoric
Despite a broader commitment to a levelling-up agenda where “everyone to have the same opportunities to get on in life” by tackling regional inequalities in outcome and opportunity, the disconnection between Part 4 of the PCSC Bill and the welfare of the child continues to pathologise a community, blame them for the inequalities, racism, and deprivation that they experience, and once again normalise the hate speech, leading us to forget why Holocaust Memorable Day is important.
To our knowledge, the full implication of Part 4 of the PCSC Bill does not appear to have been made subject to a formal impact assessment from a child welfare perspective. For this reason, we predict that its implementation will exacerbate the entrenched inequality and deprivation that government so frequently reports.
Despite, continuous research highlighting the need to give recognition and acknowledgement to the intersection of culture, history, identity, racism and oppression, policy directives have slowly dismantled investment in services designed to bridge the gap caused by centuries of oppression and state sponsored violence.
Figure 1 shows that as services have been withdrawn, as housing policies have been amended, and as the obligation to promote opportunities for integration have been diluted, the number of Gypsy and Traveller children requiring support through formal child welfare services has increased.
It is our view that Part 4 of the PCSC Bill threatens to add to this number as it making the lives of Gypsy and Traveller children and their families even harder.
The final systematic annihilation?
The situation is Wales diverges somewhat from England. Although criminal justice is a reserved and non-devolved matter, Part 4 of the PCSC Bill conflicts with domestic legislation, in particular Part 3 of the Housing Act 2014 which relates to local authority duties to assess and meet the housing needs of Gypsies and Travellers. This includes site provision and transit places.
The existence of a legal duty hasn’t improved the delivery of culturally appropriate accommodation for Gypsies and Travellers in Wales. There continues to be a shortfall in sites/pitch provision and the duty has not led to ANY transit sites to date. Significantly, no local authority has been held accountable for the failure to meet this requirement.
The Senedd in Wales has, however, sent a clear and unambiguous message to Westminster Government that it will not support racist laws. On January 18th Members of the Senedd voted 40 to 14 to withhold consent to Part 4 of the Police Bill and it was encouraging to hear strong and supportive cross-party speeches.
This vote sends a strong message not just to Westminster but a clear message of support to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller citizens of Wales that the nomadic way of life should not be criminalised, people’s human rights do matter and there are those who are willing to raise their voices to defend and uphold them. It was important that Senedd debate shone a light on the lack of adequate sites across Wales and the need for Welsh Government and Local Authorities to do so much more –
The Senedd vote is a moral victory and time will tell whether or not Welsh Government has the legal capacity to withhold consent. Welsh Government also needs to ensure that local authorities meet the assessed needs of Gypsies and Travellers with clear accountability and penalties where this doesn’t happen.
History may remember January 18th 2022 as that ONE DAY where common humanity was the order of the day and instead of sleep walking into a human rights catastrophe, the eyes of the general population were opened to the monstrosity of this Bill and where ultimately, it can lead – the systematic annihilation of people based on their ethnicity or race.
“The Travelling life in my family goes back over three hundred years in Wales, they had stopping places where local people would gather to hear their story-telling and dance to the Gypsy fiddles and harps. All over Wales you can see ‘Y lon Sipsy/Gypsy Lane’ the ‘achin tans’ where our families stopped, cared places to us where birth, marriage and death occurred. By outlawing these culturally rich practices of stopping places an entire legacy of Welsh Romani culture is threatened with silence and erasure. Without ‘place’ there will be no meaning to our Welsh Romani cultural identity and our contributions to Welsh culture will become empty and blown away like leaves in the wind.”
Roma and Sinti Porrajmos – resources: