Gypsy levelling up plea to government

Journalist Mike Glover smiles to camera, he is wearing a striped navy shirt and navy tieGuest Author: Mike Glover – Lakes & Bay Communications

THE Government has been urged to include the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in its levelling up programme.

The plea came from a House of Lords select committee after they heard “shocking” evidence in a series of hearings earlier this year about the health and life prospects of the minority groups.

“The most shocking evidence that we heard was that life expectancy for Gypsy and Traveller people is reported to be 10 to 25 years less than the general population.

“The significant disparity in outcomes creates an urgency for the Government to put communities as the centre of the levelling up agenda,” wrote Baroness Armstrong, chair of the House of Lords Public Services Committee.

In recent weeks (May 17) Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top sent letters calling for action to Professor Sir Chris Witty, Chief Medical Officer for England, his deputy Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, who co-leads the office of health improvement and disparities, and separately to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. 

Baroness Armstrong was formerly known as Hilary Jane Armstrong, a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament for North-West Durham from 1987 to 2010.

Baroness Armstrong said very little had been done by the Government to address inequalities exposed in the Race Disparity Audit in 2017 and the Women and Equalities Committee in 2019.

“A lack of suitable accommodation is the major issue facing GRT communities. Around 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers currently live roadside in England because of a shortage of stopping sites, many of whom struggle to access basic amenities.

“Their lack of access is at the root of the health inequalities that affect these communities,” wrote Baroness Armstrong.

“We note that Mission Seven of the Government’s Levelling Up the United Kingdom white paper aims to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030.

“However, there is no mention of GRT communities in the White Paper…We are concerned that the GRT communities will be side-lined and that their unacceptable health disparities, already exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, will continue.”

The Committee heard from witnesses how GRT communities had difficulty in accessing health services, especially registering with GPs. They also heard from Dr Dan Allen, deputy Head of Department, Faculty of Health, Psychology and Social Care at Manchester Metropolitan University, that: “We have seen a gradual decline in Traveller education services and specialist health services.”

He said: “If we can reinvest and re-enable early help preventive services, we will reduce the number of referrals to social services and bring parity.”

In the letter to Mr Gove, Baroness Armstrong made a ten-point challenge to the Government demanding specific action by the Government to address the inequalities, to provide more data, to provide more sites, and to work with local government to improve services to GRT communities.

In a summary of evidence, the committee said: “Our witnesses told us that a lack of suitable sites was the major issue facing Gypsies and Travellers.

“They argued that the provision of better sites would enable better access to public services such as health and education.

“The 2015 planning policy for traveller sites established that local planning authorities are responsible for providing appropriate sites for Gypsies and Travellers, but in 2020 only 8 out of 68 local authorities had identified a five-yar supply of specific deliverable areas.”

Gypsy representative Billy Welch, said more sites were not happening and recommended that

“It should be made compulsory for local authorities to provide pitches for roughly the number of Gypsies and Travellers in their area, like it is to build houses.”

The committee was also concerned that the new Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill would introduce penalties for people who reside, or intent to reside, on an unauthorised encampment.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights stated “a chronic lack of authorised sites means that many in GRT communities feel that they have no choice but to live on unauthorised encampments.

It concluded that to “criminalise unauthorised encampments without providing authorised sites would be contrary to the Government’s obligation under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to facilitate the gypsy way of life.”