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A national disgrace

Britain
Down time at the Stow-on-the-Wold horse fair in the UK. Many Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have been left without basic services during the Covid-19 pandemic.  ADRIAN SHERRATT / ALAMY
Down time at the Stow-on-the-Wold horse fair in the UK. Many Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have been left without basic services during the Covid-19 pandemic.
ADRIAN SHERRATT / ALAMY

Many Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in Britain have been left without basic services, including water, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some have been evicted, despite safety warnings from charities.

Travelling people were not accounted for in government provisions that were meant to ensure safe housing for those in need throughout the pandemic shutdown, including an ‘eviction ban’ for tenants and mortgage holidays for home owners. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) populations already have the worst health outcomes and lowest life expectancy of all ethnic groups in the UK, meaning they’re among the most likely to be impacted by coronavirus.

Abbie Kirkby, Advice and Policy Manager at advocacy group Friends Families and Travellers (FFT), says that they requested in March that the government draw up a clear plan on how nearly 100,000 nomadic people could self-isolate on unauthorized encampments, Traveller sites and boats. While both Wales and Scotland brought in protections, the Westminster government stayed mostly silent on the topic and roadside camps have continued to be moved on. There is already a chronic shortage of designated sites and Covid-19 has made the situation more difficult.

‘It really is quite beyond belief that even during a global pandemic Gypsies and Travellers continue to be evicted,’ Kirkby says.

FFT, which provided its own advice for GRT families needing to shield and self-isolate, asked the government to tell local councils to halt evictions during the Covid-19 shutdown and to provide water, sanitation and refuse collection for families needing to shield due to health conditions.

Kirkby says many families aren’t able to protect themselves during the pandemic. ‘Some local authorities have risen to the task and supported Gypsies and Travellers, whilst others have left families without the very basic amenities such as water and sanitation – an absolute disgrace in 21st-century Britain.’

New Internationalist issue 527 magazine cover This article is from the September-October 2020 issue of New Internationalist.
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