Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The previous post about the planned siezure of children prior to the possible eviction at Dale Farm prompted 2 quite negative comments ( click on the comments link on that post to view)
I would like to thank Dick Jones for emailing me his informed thoughts on the subject. So valid and accurate are the observations made by Dick that I have decided that they are best used as a new post
Many thanks Dick
GYPSY ACTION – TAKE A TIP FROM THE BALKANS!
By Dick Jones
The previous post tells a grim and depressing tale indeed. It would seem that in addressing the ‘Gypsy Problem’ our own local authorities have been studying the philosophy and practices of the Balkan states.
Sadly, the three comments that, at the time of writing, have been appended to the previous post merely lend substance to the narrow, prejudiced and unenlightened views that prevail at the highest levels of government.
Firstly, I would say to Veshengro that the ethnic composition of the Travellers in question is absolutely not the issue here. To ignore what is little more than a process of calculated hostage taking and blackmail on the part of a duly constituted county council in order to pick away at the old English-versus-Irish Traveller issue is, to say the least, crass. History has demonstrated again and again what happens when minorities sharing victim status in the face of systematic persecution insist on maintaining their singularity. Can there be anything more conceptually crazy and practically witless than ignoring the need for solidarity when the pressure is on?
Secondly, in response to Angela B’s insistence on the observance of the letter of the law, I have to say that I find it astonishing that in spite of all the easily accessible data published concerning Traveller numbers, official site availability and planning permission, there are those who’d rather look no further than the ends of their noses in the defence of a set of laws that are unjust and unworkable.
Sorry, guys, but it’s watch-my-lips time! These are the facts.
Traveller numbers. The most recent authoritative data tells us that there are between 90,000 and 120,000 Travellers in the UK today. In July last year, the government tallied 15,014 caravans in England and Wales. Most of them - 10,777 - are on council-run or legal private sites. Just over a quarter are on unauthorised sites - 1,855 - or roadside verges - 2,409 - the unaccommodated total being 4,264. And this figure is changing almost as I write. In 1979, the government tallied 8,358 Traveller caravans in England and Wales. By last year, there were 15,014, not far off double the number in 20 years.
Site availability. The government reckons that there is a need for 4,500 extra pitches in England and Wales. Clearly something of a challenge. However, since in 1994 the Tories trashed the Caravan Sites Act of 1968 (whereby county councils were obliged to provide official sites for Travellers ‘residing in or resorting to’ their territory), the legal requirement to provide sites has released councils from their obligations and the slow, painful but ultimately positive process of providing sites has ground to a halt. Traveller numbers, however, have risen.
Planning permission. So the government of the time seemed to be compounding an unresolved problem rather than hastening a solution. But no problem, said Home Secretary Michael Howard. We’ll establish a level playing field and encourage Travellers to apply for planning permission with no let or hindrance. And an official recommendation was circulated to all county councils suggesting that they identify land within their authority that might be allocated to Traveller families applying for planning permission. To date, 90% of planning applications by Travellers have been turned down with two-thirds of all appeals being rejected against 20% of applications by the sedentary population.
Clearly the overall situation is untenable. According to the BMA, the Traveller community is the health group most at risk in the entire country with the highest child mortality rate and lowest life expectancy. Also Ofsted has identified Traveller children as having low levels of overall educational achievement and as being highly vulnerable to bullying.
The only solution to the inevitability of illegal encampment – whether it be the highly organised and resourceful community of Dale Farm or a patch of scrub next to a landfill facility – is the provision of a network of properly convened sites across the country. Their design and construction should be determined through full consultation with both the Traveller and the housed community. Only through a mutual understanding of the very real concerns and requirements of both communities will this endlessly ongoing conflict be resolved.