Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are not a homogenous group. Groups included in the terms are many separate communities with different histories, cultures and beliefs. These include:

  • Romany gypsies;
  • Welsh gypsies;
  • Scottish gypsy travellers; and
  • Irish travellers.

According to The Traveller Movement website, communities often include elements of nomadism, a focus on the extended family and an entrepreneurial approach to work. The 2011 census showed that there were around 58,000 members of these groups living in England and Wales, 76% of whom were residing in houses or flats.

Discrimination and inequality

The UK has been cited as a safe haven for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. A member of the Roma Support Group (RSG) told the APPG on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma that:

Roma people have seen the UK as a safe haven and as a place they had felt included in society and were playing full and active roles in the labour market, education system and local communities.

Despite this, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities continue to experience discrimination in the UK, and have some of the worst outcomes across many social indicators. The 2018 report ‘Is Britain Fairer?’, from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, found that these communities had lower educational attainment rates at both primary and secondary school than any other group. They also faced increased barriers in accessing primary healthcare and had a lower standard of overall physical health than the general population. Research from the Traveller Movement also found that in 2019, 40% of young people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in London had experienced bullying. Of these, 67% reported bullying from teachers that they felt was directly linked to their ethnicity.

The impact of Brexit

The potential long-term impact of Brexit on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities has been noted by several commentators. The New European argues that it was the introduction of free movement laws after the second world war that allowed Roma people to escape further persecution in mainland Europe. Many Roma sought, and continue to seek, refuge in the UK following social exclusion and persecution in their country of origin. Others have said that Roma communities are at risk of missing out on achieving settled status within a post-Brexit UK. An event hosted by the APPG on Gypsies, Travellers and Roma debated these issues back in 2018, when a final Brexit deal was still being negotiated. Concerns raised included:

  • problems for Roma obtaining documents showing evidence of identity (such as passports);
  • limited relationships with HMRC or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), leading to difficulties in obtaining evidence of labour and payment of taxes; and
  • a lack of digital skills and resources required to complete the settled status application online.

Other sources have highlighted these as issues also facing Irish Traveller communities who regularly cross the Irish border for seasonal work. Support groups and charities, such as the RSG, have provided resources and assistance for those applying for settled status.

The Government has provided online support for those applying for settled status, including a list of charities that offer assistance in filling out digital forms (including several that specialise in support for Roma communities). In answer to a written question regarding the EU settlement scheme, Immigration and Future Borders minister Kevin Foster said:

The Government is using every possible channel to encourage everyone who may be eligible for the EU settlement scheme to apply. The Home Office is currently working with HMRC and the DWP to send letters to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who receive benefits. The Home Office urges anyone eligible for the [settlement scheme] to apply before the 30 June deadline to ensure their rights are protected following the end of the grace period.

The impact of Covid-19

During the first wave of the pandemic, concern was raised about the spread of Covid-19 on caravan sites. The majority of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and individuals reside in houses and flats, though a minority continue to live in caravans. Many of these caravans are on authorised private sites, while a small percentage are on unauthorised land. Concern has been raised about conditions in some of these sites, including poor sanitation facilities and proximity to motorways and sewage works. A 2016 study by the National Inclusion Health Board (NIHB) measured the impact of these insecure sites on the health of those residing in them. It found:

  • both authorised and unauthorised sites are too often located in environments that promote poor physical and mental health, including next to busy roads and motorways;
  • 66% of those interviewed for the study reported having bad, very bad, or poor health; and
  • health was generally worse at unauthorised sites compared with authorised, private sites.

Findings from the study particularly relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic include a high number of respondents citing asthma and repeated chest infections as major problems. The respiratory nature of Covid-19 meant that many living on these sites were in moderate or high risk categories for Covid-19. Sites were also often overcrowded, making social distancing difficult or impossible.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the Government acknowledged that Gypsies, Roma and Travellers were likely to be disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. It called upon local authorities to ensure that these communities continued to have access to basic facilities. However, at the start of the second wave in the summer of 2020, some groups, including The Romani Cultural and Arts Company, said that support provided during the first wave did not go far enough. Access to information and essential services continued to be challenging.

Read more

  • House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, Tackling Inequalities Faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities, 5 April 2019, HC 360 of session 2017–19
  • David Cressy, Gypsies: an English History, 2018
  • Marc Willers and Chris Johnson, Gypsy and Traveller Law, 2020
  • Katharine Quarmby, No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers, 2013

Cover image by Calvin Hanson on Unsplash.