This is a quick look at persevering discrimination, moreover how gypsy travellers are affected by various issues relating to equality in the UK. I am not trying to make personal attacks against any governing body or service provider. I have simply done a little research and documented my findings in the text below. Whenever I try to tackle something like this I get negative comments. I appreciate objective criticism of my views, in fact I encourage it! But they are just that, my views. In any case I hope this is of interest to some!

“The NHS provides a comprehensive service, available to all irrespective of gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion or belief. It has a duty to each and every individual that it serves and must respect their human rights.” (5)

This statement from the NHS Constitution is taken for granted by most people, yet when we discuss the use of the NHS by travelling communities we can see that racial discrimination is rife and has led to worrying health statistics. “A report published in 2004 showed Gypsy and Traveller communities are the most at risk health group in the UK with the lowest life expectancy and the highest child mortality rate” (6)

It isn’t down to the NHS’ inability to provide adequate care to travelling communities but is in fact due to racial discrimination within the community. “Many Gypsies/Travellers feel that discrimination against their community is considered more acceptable than discrimination against other races, such as black or Jewish people.” (7) The Equality Act 2010 doesn’t make a statement relating to travelling communities status as distinct and separate ethnic groups however judges in England have decided that Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are sufficiently represented as individual ethnic parties.(9) Romany Gypsies and Irish travellers are recognized under the Race Relations Act (11) as ethnic minority communities in the United Kingdom and are protected as such, yet we still see these communities suffering because of racial discrimination. Equality Law has set out the legalities concerning travelling communities but has that law been enforced to it’s full potential? No.

Harassment in the community is very difficult to manage, many travelling communities are reluctant to report harassment to the local authorities fearing repercussions, and this just strengthens social exclusion. Harassment is just one example of discrimination, but the most common. If a traveller is harassed in the workplace or during the application process a complaint of racial harassment under the Equality Act 2010 could be made and that person would be represented. This is a given. We have seen examples in the media of racial discrimination in communities such as that of the Firle Bonfire incident in 2003 (13) in which a caravan was towed through a Sussex town and burnt as an effigy at a Guy Fawkes celebration. Six arrests where made but the Crown Prosecution Service said “.. it would not go ahead with prosecutions.” If that effigy was of a mosque or church then I would suggest the consequences would be stronger. Tory candidate for Lewes has said, “Last years (2003) Firle Bonfire hit the headlines, quite undeservedly, for all the wrong reasons”. This is a grossly inaccurate and unsympathetic statement to make. The Race Relations Act has stipulated that Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers ARE protected and represented yet the Crown Prosecution Service, in the face of overwhelming evidence, decided not to prosecute those involved. This sends a negative message and undermines legislation.

It is for these reasons that, in my opinion, social discrimination towards travelling communities is seen as ‘acceptable’. The commission for Racial Equality has said “..that discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers is the last ‘respectable’ form of racism.” (10). This social discrimination has led to catastrophic consequences. The Travellers Health Study Vital Statistics of Travelling People, 1987 has stated that; “From birth to old age, they have high mortality rates, particularly from accidents, metabolic and congenital problems, but also from other major causes of death. Female Travellers have especially high mortality compared to settled women.” (15) Within the NHS establishment travelling communities are well represented. “Gipsies and travellers should be given priority in NHS hospitals and GP surgeries, doctors have been told.

They will be fast-tracked for doctors, nurses and even some dentist appointments above all other patients.” (17) The cause of the alarming health issue, as mentioned, is directly related to the treatment of discrimination in the community.

How is equality being enforced when tabloid news papers can print headlines of “Sun(s) War on Gipsy Free-for-All”. There are provisions for tackling equality in the workplace or in the healthcare sector and these are actively managed and therefore discrimination in these areas isn’t directly debunking equality laws. Public facing bodies, such as The Sun newspaper, seem to be able to operate discriminatory views on travelling communities without punishment.

As of 1st of October 2010 the Equality Act 2010(8) came into effect. The original four types of discrimination (Direct, Indirect, Harassment and Victimisation) have not changed. Harassment can be described as; “..Unwanted conduct relating to a relevant protected characteristic, which has the purpose or effect of violating an individual’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for that individual”(19). This definition does not seem problematic yet the authorities are reluctant to enforce it.

This will forever be an ongoing question, one that I do not hope to answer in this digest. In a political climate as ‘tumultuous’ as this it’s important to highlight the amount of stigma and discrimination that gets glazed over. There are groups in this ‘free’ country that actively encourage the sort of bigotry that many of us strive to quell. Gypsy travellers receive a lot of negative press because of their way of life, their culture; they are treated as ‘second class citizens’ because of their religious beliefs. This has all happened before, 1920’s Germany saw the rise of discrimination in the name of purity, look how that ended.

Thank you.

(these are my opinions and not that of any governing body)

Research List:

  1. NI does it pay NHS? – http://www.financialcrisis2009.org/forum/Taxes/Why-do-I-pay-NI-What-is-it-296817.htm
  2. Nursing gypsies and travellers – http://www.rcn.org.uk/development/practice/social_inclusion/gypsy_and_traveller_communities 
  3. Traveller reform reps – http://www.travellerslaw.org.uk/appg.htm
  4. NHS Constitution – http://www.nhs.uk/choiceintheNHS/Rightsandpledges/NHSConstitution/Pages/Overview.aspx
  5. FULL NHS Constitution - http://www.nhs.uk/choiceintheNHS/Rightsandpledges/NHSConstitution/Documents/nhs-constitution-interactive-version-march-2010.pdf 
  6. Uni of Sheffield report – http://www.shef.ac.uk/scharr/research/publications/travellers.html
  7. Shelter discrimination – http://scotland.shelter.org.uk/getadvice/advice_topics/complaints_and_court_action/discrimination_and_harassment/discrimination_against_gypsiestravellers
  8. Equality act 2010 – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents
  9. Don’t use the G word – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1319056/Dont-gipsies-Judges-told-use-G-word.html
  10. Romany as a race-  http://www.grtleeds.co.uk/information/raceIssues.html
  11. Race relation act amendment – http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/34/contents
  12. Why do I pay NI? – http://www.financialcrisis2009.org/forum/Taxes/Why-do-I-pay-NI-What-is-it-296817.htm
  13. Gypsy caravan buring – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2003/nov/12/race.world
  14. CPS not prosecuting – http://www.solarnavigator.net/geography/sussex/firle_bonfire_society.htm
  15. Travllers health study – http://www.dohc.ie/about_us/divisions/social_inclusion/travellers_health_status_study_1987.pdf?direct=1
  16. Travellers health wiki – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_Traveller#Health
  17. NHS Fast track gypsies – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1193810/Want-GP-Gipsies-come-NHS-tells-doctors-travellers-seen-straight-away.html
  18. Sun Stamp out Camps - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4337281.stm
  19. Leathes Prior equality summary – http://www.leathesprior.co.uk/resources/equality-act-2010/
  20. Problem with equality – http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Bechter-Paper.pdf
  21. Ideological equality – http://www.eric.ed.gov.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=ED152622
  22. Equality bill – http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2008-09/equality.html