Why the government has a ‘lazy and populist’ approach towards unauthorised traveller sites

Helen Jones, chief executive of Gypsy and Traveller charity Leeds Gate, responds to the Home Secretary’s plans to give police ‘tough new powers’ to crack down on illegal traveller sites.

No surprises in the Government’s traditional electioneering dog whistle approach to dealing with unauthorised encampments, just more of the same lazy, populist nonsense that got us to where we are. Its proposals will not improve quality of life or increase community cohesion and certainly will not reduce resources being wasted on this issue.

The response is not surprising but even so, we are shocked by the extent to which it ignores serious consultation responses, such as that from the National Police Chiefs Council and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which do not concur with the need for greater and more punitive police powers.

The Government has relied on there being a ‘majority’ of responses, no matter how slender, that support its position, and on respondents whose opinions are based on unsubstantiated ‘perception’, without any regard to how well informed or credible those responses might be.

The government response throws a cheap shot at the wellbeing of Gypsy and Traveller people.

In particular chapter 2 section 4 and the response to question 20, where it conflates the needs of Gypsy and Traveller people with those of Roma people, quoting investment from the Controlling Migration Fund, when there is no evidence that issues of unauthorised development or encampment affect or involve Roma people.  Additionally, it refers to six very modest pilot projects (some again focused on Roma) recently funded by MHCLG which were heavily criticised in the recent appearance of Lord Bourne at the Women and Equalities Commission enquiry as being shamefully little and late in the face of enduring inequalities experienced by Gypsy Traveller and Roma people.

In response to question 20 the government states that this ‘work to support Gypsy Roma and Traveller groups in communities, education and health…seek to mitigate any negative impacts of proposals to strengthen powers, and that these proposals may result in positive impacts’.

This is shockingly complacent in the face of overwhelming evidence of the effects of marginalisation on the lives of these people.  There is nothing in the government responses which would reassure us that this whole document will not simply result in greater demonisation exclusion and marginalisation, particularly the way in which it conflates unauthorised encampment and crime throughout.

Frankly, so long as it can blow the usual dog whistle, the government clearly cares little about the impact on people already made vulnerable by government policy and political discourse.  Throughout the document the lack of permanent site provision is clearly labelled as the cause of much-unauthorised encampment or development and yet there is absolutely nothing new offered which might address this.

Whilst occasionally deigning to mention successful restorative approaches to unauthorised encampments, such as the Leeds negotiated stopping practice, the government responses wholly ignore and indeed undermine the proven positive impact of these approaches in terms of cost saving, in improving community cohesion, and indeed in respect of enabling enforcement in cases of actual crime being committed.  Rather the government speaks about unauthorised encampment as if crime and disruption is an inevitable feature whose only solution is to ‘speed up’ enforcement.  This attitude badly lets down peaceable people from all communities, settled and travelling alike.

Read Environment Journal’s report on negotiated stopping from 2018 here.

Helen Jones
Chief executive, Leeds Gate


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