Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities Contents

3Government policy: history and current practice

29.Many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups have been protected from discrimination in law since the Race Discrimination Act 1976, confirmed in case law over numerous years (see Chapter 8). Policy provision has, likewise, been developing in the UK over several years, sometimes in direct reference to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and sometimes in a more piecemeal way. While it has been acknowledged for many years that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have the poorest outcomes and experience the “last respectable form of racism”31 there has not always been a concerted effort to include Gypsy, Roma and Traveller needs in policy-making. After the repeal of the anti-Gypsy laws of the 18th century, little legislative provision addressed the needs of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people until the 1960s, when new laws created a duty on local authorities in England to ensure that there was sufficient caravan site provision for Travellers.32

30.Equality bodies have been researching Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inequalities for some time. In 2005, The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) concluded that site provision was poor and that most of the tension between settled and Traveller communities was due to unauthorised encampments and disputes over planning permission.33 The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the successor to the CRE, published a comprehensive report in 2009 that covered many of the same issues explored in this inquiry.34 Our inquiry heard about many of the same inequalities identified in that report, highlighting how little progress has been made in the intervening decade.

The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies

31.In 2011, the European Commission launched an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020,35 which stated that every EU Member State should formulate a Roma integration strategy or policy instruments. The Commission would assess each State against the strategy annually. The Commission’s use of “Roma” included Gypsy and Traveller people. The UK responded to the Framework by stating that, while it was to be welcomed as a pan-European initiative, the UK context did not neatly fit into what the Framework was trying to achieve. The Government stated:

In the UK we have a strong and well-established legal framework to combat discrimination and promote equality. That protects all individuals, including Roma, Gypsies and Travellers from racial and other forms of discrimination. […] Not only does our legislation prohibit discrimination in key areas like employment, education and housing, it also places a positive duty on public authorities to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between members of different groups.36

The Government stated that it preferred to meet the Framework requirements through broader social inclusion programmes, with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller-specific interventions supplementing them when necessary. However, Prof Margaret Greenfields, echoing the EU Commission,37 was critical of this approach and suggested that the Government was paying lip-service to the Framework rather than engaging with it in a meaningful way. She said that:

We are not engaged adequately with the national Roma integration strategy. It feels largely as though things that have been going on in various places have been drawn together to try to indicate some form of compliance with European expectations.38

The Ministerial Working Group on Tackling Inequalities Experienced by Gypsies and Travellers

32.The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government holds the portfolio for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller issues. In November 2010 the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government set up a ministerial working group that brought together seven departments to consider the barriers faced by Gypsy and Traveller communities and to make recommendations to tackle them. A progress report published in April 2012 included 28 commitments made by Government departments.39 The commitments and the Government’s stated progress on them can be found in Appendix 1 of this report. The Government updated Parliament on the progress of these commitments in October 2014, stating that all 28 had been completed.40

33.Some witnesses were complimentary in their assessment of the aims of the Ministerial Working Group, if not in its outcomes. South Somerset District Council, for instance, said that:

The Working Group made an excellent start and for the first time it felt as if Government were united in tackling the inequalities suffered by the G&T community.41

We agree that the Ministerial Working Group was conducted in good faith and with a commitment to improving outcomes for Gypsy and Traveller communities. Nonetheless, some stakeholders were critical of the Group on several different issues. One criticism was simply that the Ministerial Working Group did not include Roma people in its analysis other than in education. Other criticisms ranged from a relatively mild complaint about lack of communication about the outcomes from the Ministerial Working Group42 to much more serious concerns about a lack of focus and follow-through by Government after the publication of the progress report. Libby McVeigh of the Equality and Human Rights Commission told us that while the Ministerial Working Group was a positive initiative, the outcomes from it were disappointing:

The recommendations of the Ministerial Working Group, although seeming to address the right sorts of issues, have not driven the change that we hoped for. Perhaps that was to have been expected, given that focused funding was not given for the implementation of those recommendations, there was not a timeframe for their implementation, nor was any accountability or oversight put in place.43

34.Michelle Gavin of Friends Families and Travellers, a Gypsy, Roma and Traveller charity, attributed this problem to a lack of leadership from central Government:

Guidance came out, but when no one is driving the engine, the guidance sits on a very dusty shelf.44

Traveller Movement, a charity, were critical of the approach that was taken by the Ministerial Working Group, suggesting that setting out specific commitments for each Government department is an inadequate way of dealing with the holistic inequalities that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people face:

They are not a strategy or an action plan – indeed, eight of them simply tag GTR groups onto existing mainstream policies.45

35.While it was broadly accepted by witnesses that the commitments set out in the progress report have been met, many submissions suggested that they have made little difference to the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Some have pointed to the lack of any further implementation of the commitments,46 and others pointed to a lack of improvement in outcomes as evidence of a failure in leadership.47 The Government told us that actions taken forward from the Ministerial Working Group were “mainstreamed” by individual departments into their wider social inclusion policies, which is consistent with its policy regarding the EU Framework.48 Action in individual departments is considered in the chapters below.

36.The National Federation of Gypsy and Traveller Liaison Groups provided us with a useful analysis of their view of progress on the commitments after 2014.49 The Federation stated, for example, that while the Department for Education did, in fact, conduct a trial on school exclusions, the subsequent report did not include Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils in any meaningful way because the researchers could not achieve sufficient sample sizes.50 One of the commitments made by the Ministerial Working Group was for the Department for Work and Pensions to set up an Ethnic Minority Employment Stakeholder Group.51 This group ran from November 2012 until November 2014 and was then disbanded in the same month that the Government provided its update on the Ministerial Working Group commitments. These feel to us like examples of the lack of effective follow-through that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inequalities have received across Government.

37.Leadership from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on tackling inequalities in Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities has been lacking. The situation is made worse by the Government’s ongoing resistance to cross-departmental strategies on race equality issues including for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The Government must have a clear and effective plan to support these communities that is equal to the level of the challenges they face.

The role of the Race Disparity Audit

38.During the course of the inquiry, the Government announced and published the much-anticipated Race Disparity Audit.52 The aim of the Audit is that if a racial disparity “cannot be explained by wider factors”53 then the Government will act to eliminate the disparity, a principle known as “explain or change”. We agree with Jackie Doyle-Price’s assessment of the value of the Race Disparity Audit when she said:

The Race Disparity Audit is a method of embedding challenge across Government to make sure that we are tackling these issues. It is a fair point to make that unless somebody is really showing leadership in this area, the extent to which we can really embed outcomes consistently is going to be an issue.54

The Audit is a mechanism by which departments across Government can be held to account and can be measured against their policies and strategies. The Race Disparity Unit’s home in the Cabinet Office allows it to oversee the work and ensure that cross-departmental measures are taken where they are needed.

39.When we questioned the Government on how the Audit would be used to improve the lives of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth told us:

It signals an improvement because it does offer the hope of something happening: we do have the evidence there and we are determined to act upon it. The challenges that have existed over a period of time are still there, but what we do need to do is have education and publicity from the Government.55

Each of the Ministers demonstrated no shortage of good will but each told us about a different set of priorities in very different policy areas, without seeming to join up with other departments. This problem had been previously highlighted to us as a problem with the Ministerial Working Group. The Department of Health and Social Care, we were told, is hoping to implement change through the NHS Long Term Plan.56 The Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government is focused on pilot projects that have recently begun57 and the Department for Education told us it has a “laser-like” focus on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children but did not provide much detail on how this might translate into a strategy.58

40.Ministers told us that they are committed to creating change for the “long-haul”59 and that these are deeply embedded inequalities that will not be “cured overnight”.60 While we appreciate that these are problems that have existed for decades, the experiences of the Communities suggest that promises that have been made by Government have not led to significant change. The difference, this time, may be in the added commitment to the Race Disparity Audit.

41.We recommend that the Cabinet Office create a specific workstream within the Race Disparity Unit for eliminating Gypsy and Traveller inequalities. The Unit should work closely across Government departments to ensure that the “explain or change” process is completed promptly and that every Government department has a strategy to tackle Gypsy and Traveller inequalities that are uncovered. Each department should have a strategy in place before the end of 2019. Because of a lack of statistical data, disparities that have been uncovered in academic research must be incorporated into this work and included as part of the Race Disparity Audit programme.

Other Government action

42.The Government has provided evidence of work that has been started since 2014 that is not related to the Ministerial Working Group, but that nonetheless addresses Gypsy, Roma and Traveller inequalities in some way. A list of projects being funded by MHCLG can be found in Appendix 2 of this report. These include three projects on hate crime (although the funding for the True Vision reporting website is not specific to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people) and 22 pilot projects being funded until 2020 through the Controlling Migration Fund.61 The latter projects focus on migration issues and are therefore only relevant to Roma communities.

43.When we spoke to Ministers, we became concerned that there was a pattern developing whereby departments would fund small-scale, short-term projects and then, regardless of the success or failure of these, would neglect to roll them out in any meaningful way. This seems to have been the case with the “virtual headteacher” pilot that ran from 2012 to 2015. Cambridgeshire County Council reported that attainment levels were improving under the pilot, but as Peter Norton, the virtual headteacher told us, the project, “had no possibility of extension, and although it had merits, it was delivered and then ended.”62 When we asked the Minister for Education about how many local authorities had taken up the virtual headteacher programme, we were told that, as local authorities were “best placed” to evaluate the needs in their area, the Department did not get involved in this nor did it collect this information.63 This seems symptomatic of a wider failure by Government to push pilot projects into the mainstream. When we asked the Minister about how the current projects would be evaluated and rolled out, he replied that:

The evaluation is often integral to the budget. There is a means of evaluating the project and then, if it is successful, of looking at how we roll that out nationally. That is very much the essence of what we are seeking to do with the pilots. If they are successful, based on the evaluation, we will then look at how we do that.64

This response seems unhelpfully vague and we feel that the Government needs to be clearer on how it will be taking forward successful projects, including any national roll-out.

44.It is disappointing that a successful pilot project was not rolled out nationally as this is a waste of time and resources. It is unclear to us how current pilot projects will be evaluated. There is no evidence to suggest that knowledge is being shared on a larger scale. Improved leadership is required to ensure that good practice is seized before the lessons are lost. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government should therefore write to us when the pilot projects are complete setting out the conclusion from the evaluations of the pilot projects, stating which ones are will be taken forward, and setting out the Department’s plan and timescales.


31 Kate D’Arcy, ‘the last respectable forms of racism,’ accessed 19 February 2019

38 Q4 [Professor Greenfields]

40 PQ HL2504 [on Travellers] 29 October 2014

41 Cllr Richard Pallister OBE, Leader, South Somerset District Council (GRT0027) para 2

42 Cambridgeshire County Council (GRT0031)

43 Q486 [Libby McVeigh]

44 Q40 [Michelle Gavin]

45 Traveller Movement (GRT0055)

46 National Alliance of Gypsy Traveller & Roma Women [NAGTRW] (GRT0015)

47 Healthwatch Cambridgeshire (GRT0017) and University of Bedfordshire (GRT0020)

48 UK Government (GRT0059)

49 National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups (GRT0026)

50 Department for Education, School exclusion trial evaluation: research report, July 2014

51 Department for Work and Pensions, ‘Ethnic Minority Employment Stakeholder Group,’ accessed 19 February 2019

53 HC Deb, 10 October 2017, col 182 [Commons Chamber]

54 Q672 [Jackie Doyle-Price]

57 Q667 [Lord Bourne]

58 Q672 [Nadhim Zahawi]

59 Q672 [Lord Bourne]

62 Mr Peter Norton (GRT0025)




Published: 5 April 2019