Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities Contents

2What we know about inequalities facing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities

Gypsy and Traveller communities in the UK

10.Gypsy and Traveller people have been present in England since at least the 16th Century and the first recorded mention of Gypsies in England can be found in a document from 1514.4 It has been suggested that the term “Gypsy” was coined due to a misapprehension that Gypsies originated from Egypt, although records suggest that they originally arrived from the Indian subcontinent.5 Roma migrants from eastern and central Europe have tended to arrive much more recently, from the 1990s onwards.6

11.Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have historically been persecuted across Europe, with every modern EU state having anti-Gypsy laws at some point. In the sixteenth century a law was passed in England that allowed the state to imprison, execute or banish anyone that was perceived to be a Gypsy.7 During the Second World War, approximately one quarter (250,000) of the Roma population of Europe was exterminated by the Nazis in an act known as the ‘Porrajmos’—the Gypsy Holocaust.8 This history is felt keenly by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and contributes to the lack of trust the Communities have in the state and state bodies.

12.In 2011, the census collected information about Gypsy and Traveller people for the first time, a move that was made on an understanding that, in order to provide services to Gypsy and Traveller people, it was vital that they could be identified.9 A tick-box for “Roma” was not included in that census, although the Office for National Statistics has recommended that a box be added for the census in 2021. The census recorded 58,000 people as Gypsy/Traveller in 2011 in England and Wales, with a further 4,000 recorded in Scotland.10 The Government acknowledges that this is likely to be an undercount, with estimates of between 100,000 to 300,000 Gypsy/Traveller people11 and up to 200,000 Roma people living in the UK.12 Witnesses have given various possible reasons for the undercount, discussed further below.

13.Gypsies and Travellers have historically lived nomadic lives in the UK, although they have increasingly moved into housing. The 2011 census for England and Wales recorded 74 per cent of Gypsies and Travellers as living in houses, flats, maisonettes or apartments.13 Most Gypsies and Travellers were born in the UK (88 per cent). The census also reveals that the age demographic of Gypsies and Travellers is much younger than the rest of the English and Welsh population, with a median age of 26 and nearly 40 per cent of the population being under 20 years old.

Figure 1: Population pyramids, England and Wales, 2011

Source: Office for National Statistics

14.The UK Government, in its submission to this inquiry, accepts that:

Gypsies, Travellers and Roma are among the most disadvantaged people in the country and have poor outcomes in key areas such as health and education.14

This has been borne out throughout our inquiry, across multiple policy areas.

Evidence of poor outcomes in Gypsy and Traveller communities

15.While Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people tend to be absent from many surveys and other data collection methods (see Chapter 4), there are enough evidence sources to give a good picture of the inequalities that the Communities face.


16.When the Government’s Race Disparity Audit was first published in October 2017, it found that:

Pupils from Gypsy or Roma backgrounds and those from a Traveller or Irish Heritage background had the lowest attainment of all ethnic groups throughout their school years.15

Figure 2: Educational attainments by ethnic group (percentage) 2016–17

Source: Ethnicity Facts and Figures


17.The 2011 census for England and Wales revealed that 14% of Gypsy/Travellers described their health as “bad” or “very bad”, more than twice as high as the white British group (see figure 3).16

18.The Race Disparity Audit provides more detail on some of these issues. Gypsy and Traveller people are less likely to be satisfied with access to a GP than white British people (60.7 per cent compared to 73.8 per cent) and are also less likely to be satisfied with the service they receive (75.6 per cent compared to 86.2 per cent for white British).17,18

19.The University of Bedfordshire, in its submission to this inquiry, gave examples of research (dating as far back as 2004) showing that:

Figure 3: Variations in general health: by ethnic group, England and Wales, 2011

Source: Office for National Statistics Census 2011

Economic Activity

20.Gypsies and Travellers also have the lowest rate of economic activity of any ethnic group, at 47 per cent, compared with 63 per cent for England and Wales overall. The Office for National Statistics states that:

The most common reason for Gypsy or Irish Travellers being economically inactive was looking after the home or family at 27 per cent. This is higher than for all usual residents aged 16 and over in England and Wales at 11 per cent. The second largest was long term sick or disabled at 26 per cent – the highest proportion across all ethnic groups.23

21.High levels of ill-health and disability accord with the evidence we have heard on health in this inquiry (see Chapter 6).

Discrimination and Hate Crime

22.A survey carried out by Traveller Movement, a national Gypsy, Roma and Traveller charity, found that, in 2017, 91 per cent of the 199 respondents had experienced discrimination and 77 per cent had experienced hate speech or a hate crime.24 Ethnicity classifications are not consistently included in police and Crown Prosecution Service statistics, so it is difficult to know whether these figures are reflected in reported hate crime numbers. However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission stated in a 2009 report that:

Racism towards most ethnic minority groups is now hidden, less frequently expressed in public, and widely seen as unacceptable. However, that towards Gypsies and Travellers is still common, frequently overt and seen as justified.25

Discrimination and hate crime are discussed in depth in Chapter 6.

Roma history and inequalities

23.The evidence on migrant Roma populations is weak due to a lack of robust data gathering. Roma people in the UK may have different cultural heritages, depending on their country of origin. It is common for Roma people to speak at least two languages, Romanes and the language of their home country, although there are also variations in dialects.

24.Roma have experienced frequent persecution in their countries of origin but were not freely able to come to the UK until 2004, when the enlargement of the EU meant that they no longer needed entry clearance. It is believed that most of the Roma people living in the UK arrived after 2004, although there is evidence of communities existing in the 1990s and earlier.26

25.Roma tend to live in concentrated groups in certain parts of the UK. The University of Salford attempted to map the Roma population and projected that the largest numbers were living in the North West of England and in Greater London. Very few Roma people live in the South West of England.27

Table 1: Roma population in the UK by region


Estimated population (individuals)

North East


North West


Yorkshire and Humber


East Midlands


West Midlands




London (inner and outer)


South East


South West




Northern Ireland






Source: University of Salford

26.Unlike some Gypsy and Traveller groups, Roma families tend to live in fixed housing.28 Some of the main problems they encounter tends to come from living in poor-quality rented accommodation and being vulnerable to exploitation by landlords (see Chapter 7), an issue that they have in common with other migrant groups. Research by the Roma Support Group suggests that Romanian Roma are fastest growing group of rough sleepers in Greater London.29

27.Our evidence also identified exploitation in employment as a serious problem, with one study suggesting that Roma people in Bradford were routinely being paid far below the National Living Wage.30 Our informal discussions with Roma people suggested that Roma parents struggle with access to schools and encounter other barriers in common with recent arrivals to the UK. While exclusions and bullying are still a problem, Roma children do not seem to be absent from education in the same way as their Gypsy and Traveller counterparts.

Data driving policy

28.Despite the differences and variations within the Communities, all are currently being poorly served by policy-makers and public services. We have heard throughout the inquiry that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are rarely considered in policies and strategies. The effect of this can vary from feelings of exclusion and lack of trust to severe discrimination. The Public Sector Equality Duty is clear that public bodies have a duty to have due regard to advancing equality and fostering good relations between protected groups. We have found a conspicuous lack of due regard for the needs of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities which we believe leads to the very poor outcomes outlined above. The following chapters will explore each of these issues in more depth.

4 Colin Clark and Margaret Greenfields, Here to Stay: the Gypsies and Travellers of Britain (University of Hertfordshire, 2006), p 23

5 Colin Clark and Margaret Greenfields, Here to Stay: the Gypsies and Travellers of Britain (University of Hertfordshire, 2006), p 23

6 Lynne Poole, “National Action Plans for Social Inclusion and A8 migrants: The case of the Roma in Scotland”, Critical Social Policy, vol 30 issue: 2 (2010), pp245–266

7 National Archives, ‘Act concerning ‘Egyptians’, 1530,’ accessed 19 February 2019

8 Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, ‘The Porrajmos,’ accessed 19 February 2019

9 HL Deb, 16 July 2008, c1244

11 Council of Europe, Estimates of Roma Population in European Countries, (July 2012)

14 UK Government (GRT0059)

17 Ethnicity Facts and Figures, ‘Satisfaction with access to GP services,’ accessed 19 February 2019. These figures should be treated with caution, as sample sizes are small.

19 Race Equality Foundation, The health of Gypsies and Travellers in the UK, November 2008

20 Traveller Movement, Gypsy and Traveller Health Briefing, March 2012

22 Ormiston Children and Families Trust and Cambridgeshire Community Services, An Insight into the Health of Gypsies and Travellers: A Booklet for Health Professionals in Cambridgeshire, (Cambridgeshire, 2008)

26 Lynne Poole, “National Action Plans for Social Inclusion and A8 migrants: The case of the Roma in Scotland”, Critical Social Policy, vol 30 issue: 2 (2010), pp245–266

29 Roma Support Group, Rough sleeping Roma in the City of Westminster, June 2016

30 Migration Yorkshire, National Roma Network Forum, June 2017

Published: 5 April 2019