Tuesday, 20 September 2011

re: Dispatches - The Fight For Dale Farm

I've lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard the words “there's one law for you fucking gypo's and another law for the rest of us”. Indeed, when you are raised a Gypsy you often come face to face with many disgruntled locals who are not exactly happy that you have just set up home on their most precious playing field. I find it somewhat ironic that these are often the same people who produced a brood of overweight, xbox addicted children who have never used (and will never miss) a playing field in their lives, but I digress. The unauthorised use of these playing fields, village greens, car parks etc. by Gypsies and Travellers fuels a hostile response from locals who feel Gypsies and Travellers are given 'special treatment' by the government and indeed this was voiced several times by angry resident's throughout last night's Dispatches.

According to Dispatches there is a belief that the law favours Gypsies and Travellers and that a 'radical change' is needed. At present I am sat in my trailer which is located on unused farmland which is let to my family at an extortionately high price by the landowner (see daylight robbery). My electricity is powered by petrol, there is no mains supply, and I have access only to cold water. I have no address, my family cannot register to vote or apply for welfare assistance, and I cannot tell a soul where I live without fear that my family and I will be evicted and become homeless once more. It is safe to say that I honestly do not feel favoured by the law.

Perhaps the question I am asked most is simply 'why?'. Time and time again Gypsies and Travellers are asked why they don't take up the offer of bricks and mortar accommodation and this is a question that has been raised with the Irish Traveller's facing eviction at Dale Farm. My own experience of bricks and mortar accommodation is not a positive one. When my family were first offered accommodation by the local authority, it was a 3 bedroom, top floor flat in the middle of one of the most deprived housing estates in the city and in our desperation this became home to ten of us. 
 
While we were used to overcrowding and the lack of privacy, it was impossible for us to adapt from a life on the open road to a life in a concrete sky scraper, isolated from our community and extended family. The neighbourhood was characterised by drugs, prostitution, burglary, robbery etc. and this was a life that we had never contemplated, let alone experienced. On top of this, we were subjected to verbal and physical attacks because of our ethnicity, our property was vandalised (most notably 'gypo scum' was creatively written on our front door with faeces) and we were hounded from our home leading to our return to unauthorised encampments. The story is the same for a large majority of Gypsies and Travellers. We are offered unsuitable housing in deprived areas, where there is often a history of hostility towards our people. 
 
It is a well documented fact, one which last night's Dispatches picked up on, that there are not enough local authority provided sites to meet the needs of the Gypsy and Traveller population. This has led to the establishment of private sites on land owned by Gypsy's and Traveller's, however many of these sites, like Dale Farm, remain unauthorised due to planning permission being rejected. While I accept that remaining on unauthorised sites is illegal, it cannot be ignored that the planning system inherently discriminates against Gypsys and Travellers and as Noah Burton, owner of an unauthorised site in Meriden, said on last night's Dispatches, planning applications from Gypsy's and Traveller's are simply 'thrown out'. 
 
One statistic (that is currently being thrown about here, there and everywhere and thus I will reference it) shows that 90% of planning applications from Gypsy's and Traveller's are rejected by local authorities, compared to only 20% of applications from the non-Gypsy (or Gauja) population (Wilson, 1998). In my opinion this is due to the prejudiced views held by those who have the power to make these decisions - individuals who would rather bow down to the demands of the Daily Mail reading locals than make an educated and fair decision. It is due to this that Gypsys and Travellers often have no other choice but to live on unauthorised encampments. 
 
Last night's Dispatches brought up, on several occasions, some of the issues associated with unauthorised encampments – human waste and fly tipping. Believe you me, if I have a choice between a toilet or a bush I will most definitely choose the toilet. As hard as you may find it to believe, it is not the sole purpose of my existence to ruffle the feathers of local dog walkers by shitting in a bush. Poor waste management is unavoidable when Gypsy and Travellers have been left with no other choice but to set up unauthorised encampments on unsuitable land. There is a huge lack of temporary stopping sites and, in my experience, established holiday campsite's are extremely reluctant to take bookings from Gypsys and Travellers, indeed the words “sorry, no gypsies” could accurately sum up my summers. 
 
I wont condemn Dispatches' attempt at covering the issues surrounding Dale Farm, as while it made some truly insulting claims (particularly Brian Steele's theory that we all prey on vulnerable old people to con them out of their money), it did make an attempt, albeit a half arsed one, to show our side of the story for once. The Dale Farm eviction shouldn't be treated with simplicity, and it is time we started to look for a deeper understanding of this sad, desperate, and far from isolated situation.

Wilson, M (1998). A Directory of Planning Policies for Gypsy Site Provision in England. Bristol: Policy Press.

15 comments:

  1. About time someone has put the plight of gypsy & irish traveller communitys in to words that anyone who thinks that the traveller & gypsys get a
    get out off jail card & getting away with things will see the realally is a very different story and if this was any other culture society would be up in arms about the way that members of this so called free and democratic country that opens it's doors to immigrants & refugees from any where in the world can treat it's own people this way well said pip & glad to see you staying proud to be a traveller cradle to grave and the way you are are keeping it real

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  2. I've come back on Twitter just to say how well you put your point across. Personally I am ashamed of some of the people in 'my community'. I have tried to argue down a couple of the worst ones on the Dale Farm support website, but it is a total waste of time. They are ignorant, bigoted, pompous, nothing more, nothing less.
    Apart from when you are being forcibly moved on, you are happy in your life and with your lifestyle, at least you know you have a real community and close family, which is more than a lot of your detractors can say.

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  3. Why is it largely cheap green belt land which is bought? Do you think that the choice of the land had any influence on the 90% figure?

    90% vs 20% looks rather one sided, but it's a statistic that invites looking into it in more detail right?

    No sane person free from bigoted or racist views is against ALL travellers, gypsy or roma

    You would be wise to realise that not all settled people are against you or your kin, or believe that you all prey on the elderly. The show didn't suggest that either. It is a real issue and one that needs to be addressed.

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  4. thats0not0me has a point. Many planning applications are rejected, not through racist reasons, but because the land the application is being sought for is greenbelt or protected land.

    That's why it's so cheap, if it would support development travellers would be fighting house builders for it.

    That said, more does need to be done to bring about proper, legal, legitimate sites for travellers.

    It's estimated that only ONE SQUARE MILE of land is needed to house all of the travellers in this country. That's not really a lot of land, especially spread out across several areas.

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  5. Was just reading about this i don't like saying much and coming across as one sided, but if your offered houses take them. Try everywhere not one area not everyone wants to be brought up in these areas, i don't believe that yous are not allowed benefits, well not all of the time, people will be angry tax payers spend a fortune every year, yous could make yourself a better life take the chance stay in education get a good job its the only way it pay. These people on benefits arent good either they're fit just lazy, theres a simple solution thers land everywhere with hot water baths and toilets for a fee nothing in this world is free

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  6. @blogthesocialhome 1 sq mi of land which is suitable for development is worth a great deal though, right? Who's going to give that up? The government? Seems a bit harsh given that services in general are being slashed, right?

    I don't mean that to sound anti-traveller; I just wanted to point out that Sophie's choices are being made everywhere. The idea that a group with a population of 15-30k would get to dictate costly policy when 500k public sector workers have lost their jobs in the last two years seems grossly unfair.

    And @pipopotamus; council housing is always in the most socially deprived areas. You weren't stuck in a special scab hole that they save for travellers. You were stuck in the same shitty situation that everyone in social housing gets. I grew up in a council house, on a council estate, in Basildon in fact, with all its attendant problems of drugs, burglary, prostitution and violence. Deprived areas have these problems. You weren't special, you were just poor like the rest of us.

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  7. @siobhan i have stayed in education.

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  8. @stippish Yes you are right that social housing tends to be in the most deprived areas. The point I was trying to get across was that my community is very guarded from that lifestyle and thus it was a shock when we first moved to an estate. My main issues with social housing was the abuse we recieved and the expectation that a 3 bed flat was big enough for 3 adults and 7 children.

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  9. I agree with you there - ten people in a three bed is unmanageable, even as an emergency/short term solution (which it doesn't sound like it was). You're also right that there's a great deal of casual violence/vandalism and ingrained bad feeling towards travellers in poorer areas as well. Travellers are hardly the only victims of that, but that's not to dispute your broader point.

    Can I ask a question though, unrelated to your post but generally related to being a traveller? What taxes do you pay? I read a lot of idiots claiming you pay none, but they're obviously wrong. I guess you pay VAT, road tax and stamp duty for sure, but do you have to pay council and income taxes/NI?

    I'm genuinely trying not to sound like a dick with that question, I'm just curious. I figure if your community pays the more regressive taxes (VAT, etc.), doesn't pay the only progressive one (income) but also doesn't claim much in the way of benefits (because you have no fixed address) then you're probably about even in (net) contribution with the rest of the working class.

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  10. If you're on an authorised private or local authority site you will pay council tax, and in the case of local authority you will pay rent to the council as well. There are also utility bills to pay.

    I'm on an unauthorised site. We let the land from the landowner (who is not a gypsy). He has no planning permission for our site, so we don't pay council tax. I would much rather be on an authorised site and would happily pay council tax, but right now this is our only option.

    All our vehicles are fully insured and taxed.

    I have two jobs, they go through the pay roll and all very legit. A lot of gypsies and travellers will be working cash in hand. I cant possibly comment whether they pay tax on their earnings. For those who dont they are no worse than the thousands of bar staff, waiters etc that are paid cash in hand without tax.

    It also might be important to point out to @siobhan that because we left our council flat we are classed as making ourselves intentionally homeless. The council did not take into account the fact we were subjected to abuse, thus the council say they have no duty to home us.

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  11. Any comment on the 90vs20% issue, or that Dispatches did not paint all travellers as preying on the elderly - or do you stand by that?

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  12. @that0not0me the statistic is over 10 years old, it would be interesting to see a more up to date figure but I am yet to find any recent research.

    The documentary was about Dale Farm and planning issues, covering crime was irrelevant. There is NO research in existance that says GRT community are mostly repsonsible for this type of crime. Brian Steele is sadly just one of many coppers that hold prejudice views. It was a direct attempt to demonize us, and did not relate to the supposed aim of the documentary.

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  13. Thank you for this - am going to link to my blog and quote you. I am absolutely sickened by the ongoing oppression, abuse and racist behaviour directed at the Traveller/ Roma community. Best of luck for the future to your and your family.

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  14. @Pip - So do you think that a statistic more than a decade old, with no context is really of much use? Like needs to be compared for like.

    Aren't you guilty of slanting the portrayal of the situation, just pro-traveller instead of anti? Would you agree that this situation needs an honest & realistic look at the situation, covering all aspect good and bad.

    The government and councils do need a 'kick up the arse' to address this, but it should be done by looking at all aspects in a frank & honest way.

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  15. @thats0notOme A statistic 10 years old is not necessarily out of date in this context as if you look at many authorised sites they are 10 years old or more, especially if you look at the provision of Local Authority sites - the majority are around that age.

    In terms of more up to date research, I did actually start to do a comparison of like for like, initially just within Basildon for the Dale Farm issue, but very few records are freely available and those that are, generally are not easy to collate, so unless councils themselves are keeping that kind of information internally I think it would be quite a big undertaking.

    Also in terms of 'pro-traveller' I don't see anywhere above that Pip states Travellers don't commit any crime ever. He's just pointed out that they aren't exclusively responsible for it.

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