The ‘Dalits’ of Dale Farm have needs too


The case of the 400 Irish Travellers illegally camped at Dale Farm in Essex and who are set to be forcibly evicted following the exhaustion of their legal appeals, shines a rare spotlight on to the lives of traveller communities.

Dale-Farm-TravellersThe contested six-acre plot of greenbelt they inhabit (and which the travellers themselves own) was formerly a scrap yard before they moved onto it in 2001. Throughout this period, local Basildon council has been trying to uphold planning law and remove them.

Although the site is adjacent to a legal traveller encampment, it is too small to house the Dale Farm community. Their eviction will therefore leave them to the mercies of the open road, with no nearby alternative provision.

This will mean breaking up the tightly-knit extended families that currently live together and forcing traveller children from nearby schools.

While there is a balance to be struck between the interests of the travellers and the legitimate concerns of local residents, the broader experience is one where traveller and gypsy communities still face open hostility and discrimination that simply would not be countenanced against any other minority group.

Rather like Indian Dalits, they have become our ‘untouchables’, vilified for their unwanted presence and cruelly parodied for their lifestyle.

Over in the Daily Telegraph, onetime arch-lefty networker turned Conservative cheerleader, Cristina Odone, describes Irish Travellers as “troublesome land-grabbers” and claims their status as a distinct ethnic grouping is a “fiction”. Her equally kneejerk colleague, Ed West, goes further – belittling the travellers’ ethnic status as “a scam”.

Responding to the claim they have been part of the British agricultural tradition for 500 years he scoffs:

“Of course, because caravan sites and scrapyards always feature in Turner’s bucolic portraits of the British countryside.”

Despite such snide and ill-informed attacks, the Department for Communities and Local Government recognises the problems travelling communities face:

“Gypsies and travellers face the most serious disadvantages of all ethnic minority groups with a much shorter life expectancy, low income and poor access to finance. Their children have high mortality rates and the lowest educational attainment.”

Commenting on the historical failure to provide enough sites for Britain’s estimated 300,000 travellers, DCLG adds:

“Top-down traveller site provision targets have failed to deliver – a recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report estimated that at current rates of permanent pitch provision it would take 18 years to hit targets set for 2011.”

Yet despite acknowledging some of the problems travelling communities face, ministers are set to worsen their plight with ‘light-touch guidance’ to local authorities about their responsibilities in maintaining sites and will introduce:

“Stronger planning enforcement powers to help local authorities deal with breaches of planning control…”

Essex County Council, which is responsible for the education and social services of the Dale Farm traveller families, boasts on its “Service for Gypsies and Travellers” webpage that it has a “robust range of services and support available”. In reality, this appears to be little more than a series of links relating to enforcement policies.

An unfair emphasis given DCLG figures show more than four out of five travellers live on authorised sites.

This only serves as a microcosm of the wider problem; with Travellers framed as a ‘problem’ to be managed, rather than people who deserve basic respect and access to decent services. There is no mention on the county council site about any health or welfare services or any guidance about how to access them. This is especially galling as the Irish Travellers and Gypsies suffer from positively medieval health inequalities and a markedly reduced life expectancy that should shame any decent society.

A report from the Diocese of Dublin three years ago found a staggering 80 per cent of Irish Travellers die before they reach 65, with a third dead before they reach 25 – levels on a par with the worst parts of Africa.

Irish Travellers are categorised as a separate ethnic grouping in the census. Their distinct lifestyle, traditions and culture makes them so. This obliges statutory agencies like local councils and health authorities to shape services to meet their needs. However ethnic monitoring is notoriously patchy, with ‘White’ minority communities often missing out from ‘colour blind’ officialdom.

Meanwhile, back at Dale Farm, Basildon Borough Council naively insists the matter is a “planning issue” rather than a “humanitarian” problem, as the Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon, described it on a visit to the site earlier this week.

Forcibly evicting these families and bulldozing their homes and amenities is simply putting a social problem out onto the road on four wheels; as traveller and mother-of-two Mary O’Brien, who has lived on the site for 10 years, put it:

“All this will do is move us 50 yards down the road and it will be a huge waste of public money.”

Yet Basildon Council remains resolute, willing to countenance spending £8 million on the eviction. A statement from council leader, Tony Ball, insists they have spent “ten years trying to avoid a forced clearance”.

It is a shame they have not spent the last decade looking at more imaginative solutions that might have avoided the need to do so.

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  • Leon Wolfson

    Trofim – No, they define themselves by being an ethnic group. They are recognised as such in British law. You’re just being outright racist.

    Helenthemadex – There is systematic under-provision of temporary sites for them. And, as I said, 90% of their requests for planning permission are rejected, in over half the country on a blanket basis. Given they want to live in clusters, not scattered, this inevitable leads to these situations.

    Moreover, again, the law is being changed to specifically ALLOW this kind of development. Which is why, after a decade, it’s being forced to a head. Which will likely end with several dead and much of the site destroyed, including the legal portions.

  • Trofim

    Leon Wolfson: They’re defined as an ethnic minority in English law? Laws are arbitrary things made by fallible human beings. Why are recognised as such? There has to be some genetic basis for it. Simply driving around in a caravan doesn’t define ones ethnicity. Laws can be rescinded. New laws can be made. At some time in the future Eastern English and Western English may be defined as ethnic minorities on the basis of Haplogroup I representation in their DNA. Personally, I’m ethnically Worcestershire.

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  • Leon Wolfson

    Trofim;

    Great, you keep on justifying your racism to yourself.

  • Trofim

    “Racist” the traditional cry of the unreconstructed lefty when he is out of his depth and he has no cogent arguments in favour of his position. On the other hand, if it is that magically easy to nominate oneself as a member of an ethnic minority, simply by saying “I belong to ethnic minority X”, then shall avail myself of that possibility. I hereby designate myself as a member of the ethnic travelling community. There, it’s done. You want evidence? Sorry, not necessary. I say I am, and therefore I am. Interesting to note that the illustration to this article shows nothing but young people who are not regarded in law as sufficiently mature enough to make reasoned judgements at an election. The unashamed manipulation of children.

  • Leon Wolfson

    Trofim – No, the cry of someone who has experienced, directly, the actions of those who believe difference is wrong. You are uttering an apologia for your racism, no more, no less.

    The Pavee *are* a recognised ethnic minority. If you don’t believe so, get the government to de-recognise them. Because evidence IS necessary, and you’re a racist.

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  • Essthree

    Trofim, ethnicity has nothing to do with genetics. Look it up in a dictionary.

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  • kushtigalwatson

    There is nothing different to all these comments left by people who are so clearly racist against travellers ive had to listen to this sort of rubbish all my life,people think that if you live in a house you carnt be a traveller,being a traveller is something your born into and it doesnt matter where you live you will always have different ways to the gorgers,we are family orientated we dont put our elderly in homes for the tax payer to look after especially when they have family to do the looking after,we do go to schools and colleges etc,the gorgers slate us for our way of life but they dont realise that half the people that work in these homes,hospitals,schools,police force etc are actually from the travelling community,i myself have worked and paid my taxes from the day i left school,most gorgers believe everything they read in the papers about us ,you get good as well as bad in all communities whatever religion you belong to,the papers are full of all sorts of stories about non travellers,rapists,peodofiles,riots,shootings but it only takes a small paragraph about travellers and you can bet your wages on it that its the story people will remember and talk about,if the papers wrote MUSLIM SCUM,OR PAKI SCUM on thier front papers they would be hauled up in court on charges of insighting racial hatred,well how come they get away with it when it comes to travellers,Its disgusting im from a large travelling family and although im a house dweller most of my kin are still in trailors they pay rent for their plots even tho they will be travelling from time to time,they pay gas and electric bills and council tax,their are many families on the estate where i live who you wouldnt take a cup of tea off,they sit out on a night drinking and taking drugs and just being troublesome,the police are never away,travellers stick together against any outsiders because they carnt be trusted its as simple as that,the trouble at dale farm shows us that,they take your money and then when it suits them they turf you out because they have some bigger and better plan for the land you have bought,dont be in too much of a hurry to evict us just because we dont look,dress,talk or live the way you do, they are many law abbidding travellers going about their buisness each day,we all want the same in life to be free to live as we want and to provide for our families the best we can

  • hogsowar

    Once again you talk on a subject you know nothing about..

  • ALI WILKERSON

    Can’t these poor folk be lfet in peace to get on with life. Is it really so intolerable to let people live the way they want to. I’m sure we all do things that others dispise – i never put the loo seat down, don’t understand the concept of the laundry basket et al – My partner deals with those bits through help and understanding. A small part of what D Cameron might call his Big Community. Why can’t we help people with there short comings and be blessed and embrace there triumphs

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