People have a very stereotypical view of Travellers.
They seem to think we just live in roadside encampments or caravans, but the vast majority of us are in traditional housing or on permanent sites.
And like everyone else, we’ve been deeply impacted by coronavirus.
Coming from a variety of circumstances means that coronavirus is affecting Travelling people in very different ways. The minority who are still roadside face increasing challenges in accessing water and sanitation, with gyms and swimming pools closed.
Smaller trailer fridges mean that when the initial stockpiling frenzy started, people found it difficult to buy the items they needed. At Traveller Movement – a charity that advocates for the rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) people – we’ve heard repeatedly how worrying this situation has been for the community.
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While the government has issued guidance not to move Travellers on, not all councils and police forces are following these rules. In Dorset, for example, a family was evicted from their site twice by police, even though the council had previously allowed them to stay.
This pandemic has simply highlighted that Travellers need more permanent local authority sites.
At the minute, apart from the order not to move Travellers on – which doesn’t apply to the majority of us – there has been no specific communications that bear our living circumstances in mind.
We need to have advice that can guide us on issues unique to the GRT community that may arise due to the pandemic.
For example, many people are digitally excluded, or don’t have access to laptops or other digital devices. As a result, children cannot complete homework.
The lack of access to online information means that a lot of the government’s announcements have not reached the GRT communities. We’ve heard that those who are self-employed were unaware of the assistance programmes for people whose work has dried up.
Public health messages have also not been disseminated. So many Travellers are quite frightened by the lack of information on how to stay safe.
The Government should be working with local authorities to spread any updates as far as possible.
Our NGO has been so overwhelmed by the lack of support and advice reaching the GRT communities that we’ve added a dedicated coronavirus page to our website and are doing outreach to make sure people feel as informed as possible.
These are difficult times for us all. My own community has suffered decades of neglect by central government and there is much work to do
There are so many aspects of lockdown that bring up specific worries for the GRT community, something that I have experienced.
Many Travellers live in multi-generational households, and I’m no different. When coronavirus started spreading I knew I would have to stay indoors, as I have caring responsibilities for my granny. I’m fortunate that I was able to start working from home and access my university courses online.
But I fear easing the lockdown and sending people back to work will lead to a second spike. For those of us who must stay in to protect loved ones, the guidance on going back to work also puts us in a difficult position.
Not being able to see wider family is also taking a toll on a lot of Travellers’ mental health. It’s especially worrying as mental illness and suicide are already significant issues in our communities.
As a charity we know that this is an issue that will only get worse but the NHS doesn’t record specific Gypsy, Roma or Traveller (GRT) data, which means there is no tailored approach – something that is desperately needed.
And then there is the fear of an increased slew of vitriol during lockdown. In April, Channel 4 Dispatches aired The Truth About Traveller Crime, which saw many online call the community ‘absolute filth’, with one going so far as to say ‘I’ve never wanted a certain group of people to get wiped out by coronavirus so much’. The documentary is now being investigated by Ofcom after receiving over 800 complaints.
You would hope the pandemic would bring out the best in people, but sadly not.
These are difficult times for us all. My own community has suffered decades of neglect by central government and there is much work to do.
However, we will work together to ensure that our future generations – our young people – are returning to school, that they get an education and that they are able to advocate for themselves.
This is why I do my job. This is why I am an education advocate. We are stronger together, and we will overcome this.
Find out more about the Traveller Movement here
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