The past year has been a very difficult one for all organisations working with Gypsies, Travellers and Roma. The government has been reluctant to consult with Gypsies, Travellers and Roma, or with their organisations even as we have seen a flood of legislation which directly or indirectly brings them huge disadvantages. The cover pictures are a reminder of the Control of Horses Act, 2015, which is already having devastating effects on horse-drawn Travellers in some parts of the country. As a Dorset Traveller pointed out, “When they seize a man’s horse, they have no idea of the value of that animal to the owner. His livelihood and all he possesses depends on that horse.” This did not initially receive much publicity, until the “Countryfile” item which revealed that 80% of horses seized had been destroyed. Travellers have kindly provided the photographs above to represent their horses, and these images speak volumes about the deep bond that exists between them and their beautiful and beloved horses.
The bringing into force of the dreaded new Planning Policy Guidance for Traveller sites on 31st August was remarked upon immediately by alert lawyers, and was dismayingly unaltered from the original disastrous proposals. This flew in the face of many well-argued consultation responses which pointed out the possible consequences of making it virtually impossible for Gypsies and Travellers to provide their own sites, as they had been urged to do at the time of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The sinister removal of Traveller status from people who had settled permanently for whatever reason has caused enormous dismay to all Gypsies and Travellers, who feel that their very existence as culturally distinct ethnic groups is threatened.
The Housing and Planning Bill introduced in Parliament in the autumn of 2015 included a clause which removed from local authorities the duty to assess the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers. Again, this was noted quite quickly, but despite representations which pointed out the impact on these hugely disadvantaged and marginalised groups of people, the government has declined to remove this clause.
The Horse Passport Regulations 2009 already required horses to be microchipped when owners applied for a passport but the difficulty of complying when owners had no fixed abode appears not to have resulted in any guidance on how to proceed in such cases. It was therefore not surprising that the Microchipping for Dogs (
Regulations 2015 similarly overlooked this difficulty. Only in Wales, it
seems, was this noted as an area that required further guidance, but guidance
has not been forthcoming. For nomadic Travellers, their dogs are an important
means of supplementing income by trading or breeding, so this apparently
well-intentioned measure is also a further deprivation with, as yet, no remedy.
We note that organisations representing Gypsies and Travellers have now said “Dosta!” (Enough!) and have banded together under the leadership of the Traveller Movement to plan a march of protest in May. This will focus particularly on the Planning Policy Guidance as the most detrimental of all the measures introduced in the past year. This was also the strong feeling of the meeting we held in
in September 2015, where Romani Gypsies were strongly represented. Marsden, Kent
As followers of Jesus Christ the Churches Network for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma accepts his divine commission to the poor, the oppressed and the marginalised. Our hope is that we can so present what we believe to be God’s call to us that all the national churches will join us in speaking out to explain the harm that is being done to people already suffering severe disadvantages.
Photographs courtesy of Joe Windas, Mary Bird and Lee Hughes