House of Commons Briefing paper

The House of Commons Library has just published a briefing paper on Gypsies and Travellers By Hannah Cromarty

Contents: 1. Who are Gypsies and Travellers? 2. Inequalities experienced by Gypsies and Travellers 3. Racial discrimination 4. Hate crime 5. Accommodation 6. Planning 7. Health 8. Education 9. Employment and training 10. Benefits and tax credits 11. Criminal justice system

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Pickles discriminates against Gypsies and Travellers – official

Mr Justice Gilbart, in a judgment handed down on 21 January 2015, found that Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government breached the Equality Act 2010 and of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The case involved two Romani Gypsies applying for planning permission for single pitch sites for themselves and their families in the Green Belt. The local planning authorities ( Bromley and Dartford ) refused them planning permission. They appealed to a Planning Inspector but the Secretary of State decided to make the decisions himself because the appeals involved “a traveller site in the Green Belt.”

The judgement said, “These are not to be dismissed as technical breaches. Although the issue of unlawful discrimination was put before the Minister by his officials, no attempt was made by the Minister to follow the steps required of him by statute, nor was the regard required of him by Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 had to the matters set out there.”

The Article 6 challenge succeeded because substantial delays have occurred in dealing with the appeals.  In the context of delay, Article 6 of the ECHR does no more than encapsulate the long standing principle of the common law that justice should not be unreasonably delayed, as it was and has been here.

The implications of this judgment are enormous.  The vast majority of all Gypsy and Traveller planning appeals that were recovered since the July 2013, when the change of policy was announced may now be challengeable due to the fact that the  practice of the policy was unlawful and discriminates against Gypsies and Travellers, fails to have regard to the Public Sector Equality Duty and has caused unreasonable delays in terms of Article 6 of the ECHR. In future the Secretary of State will not be able to intervene in this way.

Congratulation to the Community Law Partnerships who ran the cases. Commenting in response to this ruling, the Equality and Human Rights Commission,  who intervened in the case, said:

“We have a duty to protect everyone from discrimination and ensure that the law is applied fairly, consistently and equally for all.

“We understand the need to be sensitive about green belt development but this should not be used to single out individuals for unlawful discrimination.

“Planning decisions should be taken on the merits of an application, not the characteristics of the applicant.”

Poor start to implemention of Government’s equalities commitments

The ACERT president, Lord Avebury, has written to the Education Minister, Nick Gibb to express our concern about the first two education commitments in the Ministerial Working Group progress report, both of which involved OFSTED. ACERT had a positive meeting with Christine Gilbert (the then Chief Inspector) last year, but it would seem that Sir Michael Wilshaw (the current head of OFSTED) has different priorities.

Commitment 1 reads: “Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are specifically highlighted as a vulnerable group in the revised Ofsted framework, ensuring that school inspections will pay particular attention to their progress, attainment and attendance”.

The 2012 Framework makes no reference to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children, or indeed to any other group of vulnerable children! The associated handbook for school inspection from September 2012 refers to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in a footnote (15, p23) as those with protected characteristics, as defined by the Equality Act 2010. The previous version of the same paragraph in the evaluation schedule for the inspection of maintained schools and academies on p.5 explicitly included Gypsies, Roma and Travellers so the new version seems weaker than its predecessor.

Commitment 5 (p10) reads: “In line with its Schools White Paper commitment, Ofsted is conducting a survey on prejudiced-based bullying, which is now under way. This will involve inspectors talking to pupils about their experiences of bullying and the way in which it is handled in their schools. Bullying of minority groups will be picked up in this survey, and the results will be published in 2012.”

The survey report “No place for bullying” includes one specific reference to Gypsies, Roma and Travellers:  “A third primary school that had an annual influx [sic] of Traveller children for a short period of time prepared all pupils for their arrival, exploring the Travellers’ culture and aiming to ensure smooth integration and a lack of bullying.”

Not only do we consider the word “influx” as indicative of the standpoint of the authors, but also the opportunity to highlight the concerns of many Gypsy, Roma and Traveller parents about racist bullying has been missed.

The text of Lord Avebury’s letter is below.

Letter from ACERT President to Nick Gibb

Government progress report on Gypsies and Travellers published

The Government yesterday published its progress report called “Tackling Inequalities for Gypsy and Traveller Communities”.

This report will be discussed at the next ACERT Executive on 1st May after which our response will be published here. The Executive is open to all ACERT members (although space is limited).

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