FAQ Gypsies and Travellers

Romany Gypsy and Traveller families have been an integral part of British society since before the time of King Henry VIII yet myths and misconceptions continue to be perpetrated in both the media and the public mind. At times it certainly seems that discrimination against Romany Gypsies and Travellers is the last acceptable form of racism.

Below are a series of FAQ and the truth on the matter.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are thieves and criminals!

FACT – There is no evidence of higher crime rates amongst Gypsies and Travellers. Whilst some are involved in crime, just as in any other community, members of the Gypsy and Traveller communities are statistically underrepresented in the prison population.

Media reports and images are often inaccurate and discriminatory.

Some settled people engage in criminal activity, it is not assumed that this is a characteristic of all settled people.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers don’t pay tax!

FACT – Like everyone else Gypsies and Travellers pay road tax, VAT on goods and services, and income tax when working or self-employed. They also pay council tax and licence fees on their homes.

MYTH – Gypsies and Traveller live outside the law!

FACT – There is no evidence for above average crime rates amongst Gypsies and Travellers, likewise all taxes are paid.

Unfortunately housing is one of the biggest problems both Romany and Traveller families face.

Since 1994 councils have not be obliged to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller families, this has lead to homeless Gypsies and Travellers having to stop in unsuitable, often dangerous locations. In 2002 Government research estimates that at least 4500 additional pitches are needed nationally.

As an alternative to this families who try to provide their own often find difficulties getting planning permission with only 10% of initial planning applications by Gypsies and Travellers succeeding compared to 80% of applications from the settled population. Subsequently continuing the cycle of eviction and homelessness.

The conflicts that can be generated are in nobody’s long-term interest.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are dirty!

FACT – Gypsies and Travellers take pride in cleanliness in themselves and their homes, and have strict hygiene laws that govern their daily lives. For the Romani this is known as Marime (Mahrime) and dictates how food is prepared, clothes are washed and their homes are kept, at the very minimum different bowls are used for washing hands, food and different items of clothing.

Unfortunately, a quarter of Gypsies and Travellers are homeless without access to a legal site, limiting their availability to facilities such as running (tap) water or rubbish collection.

Between 1970 and 1994 under the Caravan Site Act 1966, when local authorities were obliged to provide sites many provided them in unsuitable locations far from local facilities, by motorways, rubbish tips or industrial activities.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are work shy!

FACT – Gypsy and Traveller community members often start work young and traditional skills are passed down between generations. There is a strong work ethic within Gypsy and Traveller communities which is based simply on the need to survive and make a living.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers sites ruin neighbourhoods!

FACT – Research shows that relationships between Gypsies and Travellers and the settled community develop effectively where well-designed and well-managed sites are provided.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 1996 found that Gypsies and Travellers and settled neighbours have built up effective relationships once a site has been established.

MYTH – Can’t Gypsies and Travellers just live in houses!

The  courts  have confirmed that homeless  Gypsies  and Travellers should not be forced to accept conventional housing.

In 2003 a High Court the judge quoted European case law stating:

“In order to meet the requirements and accord respect, something more than taking account of an applicant’s Gypsy  culture is required…Respect includes the positive obligation to act so as to facilitate the Gypsy way of life.”

Although some Gypsies and Travellers are content with their brick-and-mortar homes others feel like they have been forced into them, accepting due to desperation at having nowhere else safe to go causing much difficulty and stress including isolated from their extended family. Romany culture developed alongside a travelling lifestyle making being ‘trapped’ in one place difficult for them, equally others may see the conventional positioning of the kitchen and bathroom in most houses as being incompatible with Romany hygiene laws.  Sometimes it is not simply not practical due to work commitments and business.

It is estimated that 50% of the UK’s Gypsies and Travellers now live in houses; however there are no accurate figures due to a lack of adequate surveying, including previously The National Census. This unknown can often lead to the needs of housed Gypsies and Travellers not being met.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers don’t pay tax!

FACT – Like everyone else Gypsies and Travellers pay road tax, VAT on goods and services, and income tax when working or self-employed. They also pay council tax and licence fees on their homes.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers are greedy!

Romani Gypsy and Irish Traveller culture often values portable wealth and unlike non-Gypsy culture this wealth is often highly visible but the amount of capital they might have in their homes is worth is far less than the equity many non-Gypsies have and in terms of caravans is constantly depreciating in value.

MYTH – Gypsies and Travellers don’t care about society!

FACT – Gypsies and Travellers are a part of society and not separate from it. They engaged in many paid and voluntary activities supporting local communities and national life.

Read More 

Leicestershire Together: Gypsies and Travellers – The Truth

Flintshire County Council: Gypsies and Travellers

Newark & Sherwood Community & Voluntary Service: Myths & Misconceptions

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