Community researchers provide powerful evidence of discrimination

The largest number of Roma, Gypsy and Traveller participants in any national survey to date were reached by six Roma and Traveller researchers being employed and trained in research techniques to go out and record responses from community members.

The figures were recorded as part of the Evidence for Equality National Survey (Evens) of ethnic and religious minorities.

Prof Nissa Finney, who led the project, said: “Evens allows us to compare the pandemic experiences of Roma and Traveller people to other ethnic groups, which hasn’t been possible before now. The disadvantage that we’ve found with the data is striking.

“Rigorous, robust, reliable data like that in Evens is essential for designing appropriate and effective policies and interventions. There’s still work to do to improve data and data collection – marginalised communities can be mistrustful of research and of its ability to bring change.

“A clear message from our study is the need for political commitment to better monitoring and measurement of the full range of ethnic groups. This is how we’ll make visible in evidence and policy those people who have been invisible.”

The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and undertaken by the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity, in collaboration with community groups and charities.

Census 2021 findings

Main points

  • Participants’ accounts portray considerable variation in the individual preference for a nomadic lifestyle, which impacts personal circumstances such as access to services, employment and family relationships.
  • Close relationships with family were recurrently described as fundamental to Gypsy and Traveller values and well-being, but a move away from traditional lifestyles and, with this, greater separation from family, was felt to be occurring.
  • Diverse views were expressed on gender roles, with some stepping outside of what were seen as traditional gender roles among Gypsies and Travellers, and emphasising the importance of education for young women, while others valued arrangements described as traditional among Gypsies and Travellers, such as men being the primary breadwinners, while women are responsible for care of family members and the home, with their work outside the home flexing around these roles.
  • A range of experiences and relationships were described regarding non-travelling communities; some felt comfortable and accepted while others described past negative interactions resulting in wariness of the settled community and a preference for socialising with other Gypsies and Travellers.
  • As well as a sense of loss associated with an evolving culture, some participants focused on new opportunities for themselves and the next generation, embracing new ideas and values, for example, in relation to education, housing, healthcare and gender roles.
  • Running through participants’ accounts were experiences of perceived prejudice and hostility in many aspects of life, which influenced decisions about whether to disclose or avoid revealing their Gypsy or Traveller identity with employers, educators and non-travelling people; in some cases, the choice was removed and they were “outed” either directly by others or indirectly by their accent, address or surname.
  • Throughout discussions about sharing their identity, participants recurrently expressed a desire to be recognised as an individual, not on the basis of preconceived ideas about their ethnic group.

Download full report

Dinner table prejudice

Download the full report
A far ranging survey of attitudes to Muslims and Islam also revealed the extent of prejudice towards Gypsies and Irish Travellers.

This report is based on a survey conducted by YouGov using an online interview with members of YouGov’s participant panel. In total, 1667 people completed the survey and prior to analysis, the sample was weighted by age, political measures, gender, social grade, region and level of education to ensure representativeness.

Gypsy and Irish Travellers are viewed more negatively by the British public, with 44.6% of people viewing this group negatively. Muslims are the UK’s second ‘least liked’ group, 25.9% of the British public feel negative towards Muslims.

Higher social classes exhibit more negative attitudes

Younger people, women, non-believers, Labour voters and Remainers tended to have less negative attitudes to ethnic and religious groups than older people, men, Conservative voters and leavers. For ethnic groups, apart from Gypsies and Irish Travellers, higher social groups tended to express more tolerance than manual categories. The report offers various possible explanations for this exception.

The one group that stands out in our survey is Gypsy and Irish Travellers. This group, unlike all the others, is viewed significantly more negatively by higher social grades. 48.4% of ABC1s view Gypsy and Irish Travellers negatively, compared with 39.3% of C2DEs. As we have already observed, there is insufficient data in our survey on Gypsy and Irish Travellers to explain the reasons behind this. One possibility is that in cases where social sanction against a group-based prejudice is lacking, people from higher social grades are happy to acknowledge their dislike. Another is that dislike of Gypsy and Irish Traveller populations is greater among rural and suburban populations – where affluent ABC1s and Gypsy and Irish Traveller sites tend to be located – rather than in inner-cities. Perhaps the most compelling suggestion is that there is a class element to anti-Gypsy and Irish Traveller prejudice, meaning it is more common among middle classes. These are all speculations, however, and require much more research to substantiate.

From ACERT’s point of view this makes depressing though not entirely surprising reading. What is encouraging however is that the researchers have not brushed the findings under the carpet on the grounds that they are not a religious group, but have made a strong call for further research.

The surprising – and in places, highly concerning – results show that it is not Muslims who are the ‘least liked’ group in Britain but Gypsy and Irish Travellers, who stand out by an almost 20% margin.54 44.6% of respondents acknowledged negative attitudes towards this group, followed by Muslims (25.9%) and then Pakistanis (14.5%). This was the only question in this survey that asked about Gypsy and Irish Travellers. While we analyse this question in more depth later in this report, what is clear from this vast difference is there is a significant need for further investigation into public views about discrimination against Travellers.

What the census tells us

There were two new tick boxes in the 2011 Census: Gypsy or Irish Traveller, and Arab. Gypsy or Irish Travellers accounted for 58,000 usual residents (0.1 per cent of the population), making it the smallest ethnic category (with a tick box) in 2011. The highest proportion of people who identified as Gypsy or Irish Traveller were found in the South East and East of England with Basildon, Maidstone, Swale, Fenland and Ashford all at 0.5 per cent.

This is the first census to have included the tick box and there was a campaign before the census to make the communities aware of the change but the figure is significantly lower than previous estimates suggesting that many families were either excluded from the census or chose the more neutral British or Irish identifications. It is unlikely that Roma families would have ticked this box, regarding the term Gypsy as racist and not considering themselves to be Travellers. It also only covers England and Wales.

An interactive map is available for users to explore all ethnic groups further at the local authority level.—ethnicity/index.html