MYTHBUSTING – GYPSY KIDS: OUR SECRET WORLD

Just a couple of weeks ago, mobile phone footage circulated showing a policeman’s dog mauling the leg of a Traveller called Andy Cash. In the video, the policeman seemed unconcerned that the dog (which he was holding the lead of) had bitten into Andy’s leg and wasn’t letting go. While Andy begged him to stop it and his family screamed, the policeman finally pulled at the lead and dragged the dog, with Andy still clamped in its jaw, across the road. He was rushed to the hospital for surgery.

Romani Gypsies (English, Scottish and Welsh Gypsies plus European Roma) and Irish Travellers (a distinct separate group, from Ireland) have been recognised as ethnic groups since the Race Relations Act of 1976 and, since 2010, they’ve been protected from discrimination by law.

But, sadly, discrimination against Gypsies and Travellers is alive and well. In fact, new research this year revealed that four out of five members of the Travelling community have experienced hate crime or hate speech. Daily prejudice and abuse has become so commonplace that it’s almost been normalised, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have called Gypsies and Travellers the most vulnerable and marginalised of all minority ethnic groups in Britain.

There are many misconceptions about Gypsies and Travellers that can feed into negative assumptions and discrimination. We’re here to set the record straight. Here’s 10 common myths about Gypsies and Travellers that need to be dispelled:

  1. They’re happy to settle on unauthorised land

Some Travellers and Gypsies have attempted to stop in unauthorised public places, but that’s because there are generally not enough authorised places for them to stop. As we learn in the show, for example, Birmingham council only has one official Traveller site, which means there’s nowhere for Travellers and Gypsies to settle when the site is full.

Unauthorised encampments are the biggest single source of conflict between Travelling communities and local settled communities, but they shouldn’t have to be. There should be more authorised sites for them to stay.

  1. They don’t pay taxes

All Gypsies and Travellers living on a local authority or privately owned sites pay council tax, rent, electricity and gas, just as people in other houses do. They also all pay VAT on their purchases, and pay petrol and road tax, the same way that everyone else does.

If Travellers and Gypsies live on unauthorised encampment (mostly not out of choice) they generally don’t pay council tax, but often that’s when they don’t have access to the services that tax payers do. Sometimes they pay local authorities directly to provide them with basic services like toilets or bins.

  1. They’re all criminals

Crimes are committed by individuals not by communities as a whole, so it’s wrong to assume that Gypsies and Travellers live criminal lives.

Although they can often experience discrimination by potential employers, Gypsies and Travellers work like everyone else, and there’s no evidence to suggest that crime rates go up in areas when Travelling communities move in.

  1. Evicting them is best for society

Every year, councils spend more than £18 million on evicting members of the Travelling community, that money could surely be better invested in providing more sites to reduce the problem of unauthorised camps and for councils to mark out more land where the Travelling community can live peacefully without fear of eviction. By law each council must provide dedicated Traveller sites for their local communities, but many of them fall woefully short in this obligation

  1. Discriminating against them is different to racism

Nope. Ever since the 2010 Equality Act, it’s been illegal to discriminate against Romani Gypsies and Irish Travellers – it’s racism.

The Traveller Movement has termed the discrimination against them as the ‘last acceptable form of racism’ because of how common and seemingly unchallenged it is, despite being no different to any other kind of racism.

  1. Kids of Gypsies and Travellers don’t go to school

It depends on the circumstances. While a 2011 study concluded that 60% of the Travelling community had no formal qualification, in Gypsy Kids: Our Secret World we witness one family that sends their three kids to school for years at a time.

We also meet one mother who removed her son from school on account of Gypsy/ Traveller-related bullying. The reasons for children belonging to the Travelling community either attending school or not are complex and individual – there’s no one rule.

Ideas towards education are increasingly changing within the community as the value of academic education is now widely accepted.

  1. They have no respect for authority

Gypsies and Travellers have had a long history of having to face the police, as the authorities are often called to evictions when families refuse to move.

These confrontations happen mostly because the Gypsies or Travellers involved feel they have absolutely nowhere else to go, and resent having to move constantly from place to place, not because they simply want to break the rules and inconvenience the police.

  1. It’s acceptable to call Gypsies or Travellers “Gyppos” or “Pikeys”

Those words are recognised as racist slurs by law and are completely unacceptable to use.

  1. Travellers live in caravans

This is a common misconception. People often think that Gypsies and Travellers live in caravans and constantly move around whereas, in fact, 90% of Gypsies and Irish Travellers around the world now live in houses.

Basically, you don’t have to travel to be a Traveller. “The word ‘Traveller’ defines an ethnic group, it does not describe a lifestyle choice.

Some groups are very mobile, but some live permanently in one area, travelling only for a few weeks or months of the year.

  1. Travellers like to keep to themselves

As we can see in Gypsy Kids: Our Secret World, many children in the Travelling community want to go to school, make friends and be accepted – that’s a universal desire! Unfortunately, because of widespread discrimination, it isn’t always easy for them to form close friendships. Many Gypsy and Traveller children are victims of bullying at school.

Members of the Travelling community often do keep to themselves because they experience isolation and exclusion when they choose to mix with those outside their close, family-based Travelling community. It’s a case of what came first, the chicken or the egg?

If you belong to the Travelling community and you’re in need of support, head to http://www.londongypsiesandtravellers.org.uk/what-we-do/ for more information and resources.

Take part

Are you a landlord with a nightmare tenant – and in the process of attempting to evict them? Or, alternatively, are you the victim of a slum landlord?

If you’d like to share your experiences please get in touch with the producers of Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords at Info@britesparkfilms.com with brief details of your story.

All information will be treated in strict confidence. By providing your contact details, you agree that these can be shared by the production team for the purposes of getting in touch with you to discuss participating in the programme and subsequently following the broadcast in case we need to contact you again. We will get back to you in due course if we want to proceed further. Please note, due to the anticipated volume of applications, we will only contact people whose initial applications are successful.