Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the eyes of UK politicians

“Politicians express their Antigypsyism in different ways – even during election campaigns – by promoting Antigypsy policies.” Virgil Bitu describes how GRT communities are viewed by politicians and governmental institutions in the UK. 

Traveller protest

Protest against the Tory Housing Bill, Alan Denney (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Virgil Bitu

Britain’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) population is not taken into consideration – even during elections. Politicians feel no restriction or common sense when they are referring to the GRT community. They cannot express their thoughts when they refer to other vulnerable groups because they are held accountable by the media, state institutions or the public. They cannot express any hatred but Antigypsyism.

Politicians express their Antigypsyism in different ways – even during election campaigns – by promoting Antigypsy policies. This is what happened at the beginning of a local elections campaign in Orford, when the Labour Party launched a flyer mentioning in its seventh bullet point ‘dealing with traveller incursions’. The party later withdrew the leaflets and there were apologies. However, the same thing happened in 2019 during Michael Gove’s general election campaign, when he promised to ‘deal with anti-social behaviour, theft and burglary and illegal traveller incursions’. This time, the Antigypsy attitude was more obvious, as traveller incursion was associated with anti-social behaviour (ASB) and crime. But nobody said anything, not even the opposition parties – because it is only Antigypsyism.

Antigypsyism is not only expressed only through political stances, but also through ignorance. Many politicians, parties and government institutions – to prove their ‘political correctness’ towards GRT – limit it to public declarations, just mentioning GRT between the lines and ‘ticking off’ the GRT issue. They also invite a few GRT Civil Society representatives who usually don't have a say in politics – and again, the GRT consultation box is ticked. We never see concrete, efficient measures to tackle social exclusion.

The same thing happened in 2019, when the UK Government launched the National Strategy to Tackle the Gypsies, Roma and Travellers Inequalities, a strategy which again was limited to ‘politically correct’ declarations, without concrete measures and an action plan – as a governmental strategy should look like. It allocated £200,000 to six projects. In the same year, the same government allocated £18 million for Gypsy and Travellers sites injunctions. This is the reality of Antigypsy policies in the UK.

We have tried to lobby to improve our representation – at least, in places that really concern us – but we have been ignored. A concrete example is the UK Government Holocaust Commission. After more than six years of existence, we still have no Roma representative, despite Roma being the second largest group of victims of the Nazi regime. 

We are ignored by British society as a whole. Antigypsyism is not a priority for anybody – not for the general population, nor the media, politicians, or governmental institutions. We have no representation at any level, as we are socially excluded.

Perhaps the change could come from political class. Could the Green Party be the first party in the UK that could crossover empty ‘politically correctness’ declarations and adopt a concrete position against Antigypsyism? Could it launch political measures that could really tackle the GRT inequalities?