Kevin McNamara MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for
Traveller Law Reform will be hosting a meeting to celebrate World Roma Day
(Ustiben) 7 April.
Long-standing campaigners for Travellers' rights such as Lord Avebury and Kevin McNamara MP will join with leaders of the Gypsy and Traveller community to celebrate the great contribution that Gypsies and Travellers make to their communities and society as a whole. These range from founding national community initiatives that benefit all communities to Gypsies and Travellers who serve in or work with the police, in schools, in the health service and in the Armed services.
The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition, winners of the Liberty Human Rights Award, will be launching a 7-Point Charter (see note 1), unlike the charter launched by Michael Howard the charter attempts to address the concerns and needs of the whole community . The Charter states: "There is a shortage of Traveller sites. We welcome the new obligation on councils to identify land Gypsies and Travellers can buy and funding to assist in setting up rent paying sites and hope unlike in the past councils will do and be compelled to carry out what is expected of them. More sites means less unauthorised encampments and less community tension. Sites should not be automatically placed next to rubbish dumps or electricity pylons as they often are".
The Charter also calls for a Taskforce to be created to enable Gypsies and Travellers to advise the Government on Traveller issues. It should contain Gypsies and Travellers but also others who can help such as, the police, health workers and local residents, enabling people to get around a table and find consensus.
The Charter also argues that it is only a small minority of people in the settled and Gypsy and Traveller community that engages in anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping. Gypsies and Travellers feel such behaviour is wrong and that equal penalties should punish such behaviour. No group should be singled out for blame.
A 'Stamp Out Prejudice' coupon campaign will also be launched (see note 2). The campaign notes the growing hysteria and prejudice towards Travellers created by recent media reports. It calls upon Gypsies and Travellers to write to Michael Howard, Charles Kennedy and Tony Blair if their children are bullied or they are threatened and abused so that all the political parties can be made aware of the acute tensions and problems that exist.
The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition 7 Point Charter
The following measures will benefit not only Gypsies and Travellers but the settled community.
1/ There is a shortage of Traveller sites. We welcome the new obligation on councils to identify land Gypsies and Travellers can buy and funding to assist in setting up rent paying sites and hope unlike in the past councils will do and be compelled to carry out what is expected of them. Government measures should be supported by a statutory duty on councils to provide and facilitate sites. More sites means less unauthorised encampments and less community tension. Sites should not be automatically placed next to rubbish dumps or electricity pylons as they often are and secure tennancy rights similiar to those of other council tennants should be offered to Travellers paying rent on residential sites.
2/ There are no Traveller councillors or MPs, as a result Travellers feel they are rarely listened to. A Government Taskforce should be created to advise the Government on Traveller issues. It should contain Gypsies and Travellers but also others that can help such as the police, health workers and local residents, enabling people to get around a table and find consensus.
3/ More support for Traveller Education Services to help get more Gypsy and Traveller children into school and onto training programmes, tackle the persistent bullying against Gypsies and Travellers which has been recorded in a number of reports by the Office for Standards in Education and support for Gypsy and Traveller parents to become school governors.
4/ Gypsies and Travellers have one of the worst health profiles in the UK with a poor child mortality rate and dramatically lower life expectancy. The NHS should have a national strategy to tackle this problem.
5/ There is a great deal of prejudice towards Gypsies and Travellers. There is a need for people to understand that Gypsies and Travellers make a great contribution to their communities and society as a whole, from founding national community initiatives benefiting all communities to working in/with the police, in schools, the health service and serving in the army. A weekly Gypsy and Traveller television programme, like Network East and History Month, would help address this issue.
6/ Irresponsible sections of the media are creating dangerous racial tensions. We want to see an effective press complaints commission code of practice that will prevent the media promoting racial prejudice and prosecutions of those that do.
7/ A small minority of people in the settled and Gypsy/Traveller community engage in anti social behaviour and flytipping, Gypsies and Travellers feel such behaviour is wrong and that equal penalties should punish such behaviour. No group should be singled out for blame.
Stamp Out The Prejudice Campaign
Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy say they stand for fair play:
There has been a flood of distorted media reports on Gypsies and Travellers, some are increasing the levels of prejudice to dangerous levels.
Our community is not characterised by filth and squalor. The Gypsy thief is a racist stereotype. Gypsies and Travellers are also the victims of crime and anti-social behaviour.
The Gypsy and Traveller community - already suffering the highest levels of social exclusion in Britain - are living in fear. Children are being bullied in school and are suffering great distress. The community is at risk from racially motivated violence and the fear is palpable.
If newspapers write unfair stories about Gypsies and Travellers tell these men.
Councils in the past have refused to follow planning guidance and help Travellers find land they can buy. 90% of planning applications from Travellers fail as opposed to 20% from the settled community. If councils refuse to following planning guidance and are unfair to Gypsies and Travellers tell these men.
The CRE says Gypsies and Travellers are one of the most discriminated against groups in society. If your child is bullied at school, if you are called names or attacked tell these men.
Write to Mr Blair, Mr Howard and Mr Kennedy at the House of Commons, Westminster SW1A 0AA.
Also send complaints to the Press Complaints Commission - 1 Salisbury Square, London EC4Y 8JB
Letter to the Editor
'WE BELIEVE IN FAIR PLAY TOO'
We believe in Fair Play.
We live in a modern Britain. We are proud to be part of a diverse and multicultural nation. We are proud to be Gypsies and Travellers.
Too many councils, politicians and newspapers seem to think they don’t have to play by the rules. Gypsies and Travellers are being discriminated against.
Fair play means being honest and telling the truth, it means giving the weak and vulnerable a helping hand not ‘stamping on’ them.
90 % of planning applications by Gypsies and Travellers fail as opposed to 20% from the settled community. In the past councils have failed to follow planning guidance and help Gypsies and Travellers find land they can buy.
It's not fair that so many Gypsies and Travellers are homeless. It’s not fair that many official sites are next to rubbish dumps and sewer works. It’s not fair that our children can’t stay in one place long enough to get a decent education. It’s not fair that our community has a life expectancy 10 years less than average.
But it's not fair either that some people in the settled community are inconvenienced by unauthorised encampments.
We don't want knee jerk reactions. We want solutions that are fair for everyone. We need more choice, more legal sites, more dialogue and more understanding.
On Behalf Of The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition Committee: Janie Codona, Bridie Jones, Siobhan Spencer, Kay Beard, Rob Torkington
The Gypsy and Traveller Law Reform Coalition,Banderway House, 156-162
Kilburn High Road, London. NW6 4JD