Disabled, elderly and ill Gypsies and Travellers forgotten in site provision
Gypsies and Travellers who have stopped travelling due to old age, ill-health, educational needs or being disabled are being forgotten in planning authorities’ site allocation processes following changes to policy definitions, the UK’s equality body has warned.
A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has assessed the impact of the revised definition of ‘Gypsies’ and 'Travellers’ in the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites 2015. The definition is used by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) in England to assess the need for Traveller sites, but no longer includes those who have stopped travelling permanently.
The report found that when LPAs assessed how many pitches they would need to meet the needs of Gypsies and Travellers following the change in definition, the requirement fell by almost 75%, from 1,299 to 345. This suggests that the needs of a significant number of people in the Gypsy and Traveller community, who still require culturally appropriate accommodation but no longer follow a nomadic lifestyle, are not being considered.
The EHRC’s ‘Is Britain Fairer? 2018’ report identified a number of troubling trends affecting Gypsy and Traveller communities, including a significant increase in the number of unauthorised encampments in England. The new research, which highlights a lack of site provision, reinforces the EHRC’s concerns that the revised definition is contributing to this increase. To address this, the EHRC has written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and set out a number of recommendations, including for it to publish guidance for local authorities on how to consider the needs of Gypsies and Travellers who do not fall within the definition, through general housing policies.
David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
“It is clear that a lack of adequate site provision is impacting Gypsies and Travellers’ rights to live in culturally appropriate accommodation and may be contributing to the rise in unauthorised encampments. Not having suitable housing exacerbates the inequalities that Gypsy and Traveller communities face. To be entirely forgotten in local authority assessments is unacceptable.
“The upcoming UN review on racial inequality will place a spotlight on the government’s progress in this area so now is the right time to ensure improvements are made to address these concerns. We have called on the government to use its forthcoming new strategy to improve outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups by introducing a statutory duty to provide safe and appropriate sites for all Gypsies and Travellers. This would go a long way to ensure they can realise their right to an adequate standard of living.”
The research also found that the approach to planning policies was inconsistent across LPAs. At the time the research was carried out, only eight out of the 20 assessed had plans that aimed to accommodate the needs of those who did not meet the definition.
The lack of sufficient and appropriate sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities has been repeatedly criticised by international human rights bodies. With the UN examination of the UK’s record on combating racial inequality approaching, the EHRC is reiterating its call on the government to introduce a statutory duty on local authorities in England to provide sufficient, safe and culturally appropriate sites for Gypsies and Travellers.