Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to implement the recommendations of the report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, published on 5 April 2019.
My Lords, I am gratified by the unusually large number of distinguished speakers and look forward very much to their contributions. I declare several unremunerated interests as set out in the register, including that I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma.
This excellent report sets out devastatingly poor outcomes for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, as well as the widespread discrimination, hate crime and prejudice they face. It shows that, contrary to stereotype, 74% live in bricks and mortar. I will single out only a few markers: educational attainment is the lowest of any group; life expectancy is 10 to 12 years less than for the rest of the population; one in five mothers can expect a child to die, as opposed to one in 100 for the rest of us; and 14% report bad health. One survey shows that 91% of those surveyed had experienced discrimination and 77% actual hate crime or hate speech. A whole chapter is devoted to problems experienced by more recent Roma immigrants.
Perhaps surprisingly, I do not castigate the Government —I know I am supposed to—for these disturbing outcomes. They are the fault and responsibility of society in general, and previous individual Ministers—such as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, whose absence from the Front Bench is much missed—have made it clear that they do not connive at what many have admitted is a national scandal. The previous Government, in their response, fully accepted the significantly poorer outcomes for Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people than for other minorities, let alone the rest of the population.
This scandal is the fault of those teachers who do not try to understand diversity, much less welcome it, or to foster the well-being of all the children in their care; the schools that exclude children for responding to bullying with their fists or by dropping out; the doctors who do not allow Gypsies, Travellers and Roma on their lists, especially if they have a caravan site address; and many parts of the criminal justice system, which do not keep statistical records of the number and identity of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma people. It is particularly the fault of local authorities, elected members and officials, who put obstacles in the way of planning applications and instigate eviction from unauthorised sites when there is no alternative accommodation; the voters who press for this discrimination; parliamentarians whose discriminatory language has been the subject of formal complaints; and all of us who walk by on the other side of the road and do not repudiate prejudice and bigotry when we hear it.
The safeguarding of minorities is surely an essential component of democracy, and the capacity to exercise the right to keep to an ethnic culture that does no harm should be one of the jewels of our diverse society. Of course, the Government have a crucial leadership role. The previous Government’s undertaking to set up a cross-government strategy to, in their words, address disparities and “improve outcomes”, is a good beginning. I add that some time ago the Government set up the Department for Education stakeholders’ group, which I have the privilege of chairing, with devoted officials but without much resource to deal with the diversity of educational need and commission research—for instance, into the reasons for so much drop-out at secondary school and bullying. Ofsted’s contribution to the group is particularly welcome. I commend the participation of its Gypsy, Traveller and Roma specialist, Mr Mark Sims, on the stakeholder group. Perhaps it is time for a new Ofsted report.
It is most welcome that the Government accept the problems inherent in the present state of home education and the need for schools to engage with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma parents and understand their culture. Have they decided on a Bill compelling registration yet? The recent Timpson report did not include race discrimination, but I hope the Minister will accept its recommendation that schools should retain their responsibility for off-rolled children.
Why has so little been done? This is really the crux of the matter. One obstacle is the ignorant idea that policies to foster equality must treat everyone the same. William Blake said:
“One law for the lion and the ox is oppression.”
Another problem is that these shocking facts are hidden because of lack of data. I have engaged with many social researchers to ask them why they do not include Gypsies, Travellers and Roma in their BAME or other datasets, and the answer is always that the absolute numbers are too small. But of course within those numbers, the proportion of, say, secondary-age pupils being educated at home or Traveller boys excluded from school, is extraordinarily high. Different research tools need to be employed.
A more intractable problem is that communities seem to need someone to hate. Scapegoating is an age-old problem—I could quote the Bible here—but some societies manage to make sure that the outstanding members of their community who happen to be from despised minorities get their fair share of recognition. How often do we hear in this country of those Gypsies who were decorated in the two World Wars, or who, more recently, led the tributes to the Muslim victims of the New Zealand atrocity, or who set up food banks and aid for homeless people in their communities? It is a continuing reproach to our media that they ignore such examples.
But there are now more community leaders, who are articulate and effective, and more go to university, though they still face barriers. The Government should seize this opportunity and engage with the communities to make a proper start on putting right these ancient and disgraceful wrongs. They should build on the slender beginnings of the constructive action I have mentioned and implement the most welcome undertaking, included in their response to the report, to get accurate and wide-ranging data on the scale of disadvantage. I ask the Minister: when will these initiatives begin and when will they report?
The Government should also initiate specific targeted action to increase the presence of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma people in the public services, such as midwives, health visitors, dentists and teachers.
The issue of sites is perhaps the largest single injustice, although it affects only a small minority of the small minority of Gypsies and Travellers in our midst. Political leadership on behalf of fair treatment is vital. I am reminded of an Answer to a Question I asked some time ago of the noble Lord, Lord Faulks—another missed Minister—about the Welsh Government’s obligation on local authorities to provide sites. He said:
“The application of the law in relation to human rights should of course be common across England and Wales.” —[Official Report, 18/11/15; col. 132.]
Indeed, it should. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, Gypsy, Roma and Travelling communities face a great deal of marginalisation, which is why I am so grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker—a redoubtable and feisty campaigner in this area—who keeps bringing this before us. I thank her for that. I am glad that we are raising this issue yet again in your Lordships’ House. She has quoted some of the many stats; I can add a few more and I guess that we will all add a few as we go along.
We know that 90% of Traveller children face racial abuse. The Government’s race audit showed that GRT pupils
“had the lowest attainment of all ethnic groups”.
The 2011 census showed that bad health among Gypsy and Traveller communities is twice as high as in other communities in our country. GRT people also have the lowest rate of economic activity of any ethnic group.
It would be simplistic to suggest that there are just one or two causes of this. It is complex—there will be a number of reasons for some of those facts—but what is absolutely clear is that it cannot be right if any of it is based on any sort of discrimination based on ethnicity. As a Christian country rooted in the Judeo-Christian doctrine of humanity—that we are all made in the image and likeness of God—this must surely be at the forefront of our thinking.
The reality is that many parts of our society are tainted with varying degrees of prejudice. Last year, we had a debate in the General Synod of the Church of England. It was sad to hear examples of where, even within the Church, there had been discrimination. It certainly raised with clarity an issue that, for many of us, needs to be faced. That debate urged the Church to fight against racism and hate crime directed at GRT communities, and to urge the media to stop denigrating and victimising these communities.
There is another, good side to this as well, so let us celebrate that. My own diocese has been supporting Roma Christians over recent years by providing a chaplain to the Roma community in Luton, and a variety of Christian denominations have offered hospitality and a place for worship. The Luton Roma Trust, set up in 2015 and supported by various charities, including the Church of England, is making a significant difference. It runs the Roma Community Centre, and the project is managed by Crina Morteanu, a Romanian Roma woman who has a law degree in human rights, with a number of other staff. There are now 1,350 people on its database, and it offers advice on employment, welfare, accommodation, health, schooling for children and finance. It runs a children’s music project and English classes. There are many good things happening, and we need to celebrate the moves that are going on.
This does, however, need to be matched by some action from the Government. I share the confusion of Maria Miller MP, former chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, as to why some recommendations from her committee were dropped by the Government. The Church is one of the largest providers of education in this country, behind the state. Will the Minister explain why the education-specific recommendations were dropped?
I am also concerned by the problems around where people can live, and particularly the actions of eight local authorities to appeal a High Court ruling which overturned their decision to prevent GRT people staying on public land; that is a potential breach of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act. The Minister cannot comment on the specific case, but can I tempt her to comment on the general principles in such situations?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for bringing forward this debate. I am so glad we have the chance to discuss this once again. I want to speak briefly about the problems facing the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in respect of accommodation. In many parts of the country, as we know, they are still having to resort to unauthorised encampments or developments, with no security of tenancy. Caravans are not recognised as a legitimate home, which leads to difficulty for Travellers in getting the required planning permission.
There is a requirement for local authorities to identify suitable and permanent sites, both public and private. In reality, this is taking place in only a small number of areas and, as there is no penalty given to those local authorities that do not comply, there is no incentive for them to find sites. When permission is granted for a site, it is often only for one year, so at the end of a year the whole application has to start again. This leads to insecurity and uncertainty about what the future holds. It makes it difficult to become part of the wider community, along with the difficulty of accessing suitable healthcare, educational requirements and employment opportunities, leading to many of the problems faced by this group of often vulnerable women and children. This in turn leads to poor health, poor maternity care, poor education and poor job opportunities, as well as discrimination and bullying. Why are local authorities not making more of an effort during that first year to find permanent sites? Perhaps if a penalty was imposed, more effort would be made.
We must recognise that it is important for Gypsies, Roma people and Travellers to live in caravan and site dwellings; it is at the heart of their history and what they believe to be their way of life. In 2019, a new national strategy was set up to tackle inequalities for Roma and Travellers. Will my noble friend the Minister tell me how this is progressing? I believe that 22 projects were going to be set up across the country. Has this happened and is the strategy going ahead as planned?
What can be done? There needs to be a joined-up approach across government departments such as the Race Disparity Unit, the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Education. Importantly, there needs to be comprehensive statistical data collection so that all the departments mentioned know what they are dealing with.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, mentioned, we know that girls are often removed from school well before the legal age, with the excuse that they are being home-schooled. Little or no checking is carried out by the authorities to see if they are getting a proper education equal to that being given to the boys, who are usually allowed by their parents to stay in school. As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, mentioned, there are problems with boys being excluded due to bad behaviour, et cetera.
We know that there is a lack of awareness about healthy relationships, which can lead to abuse in the young Gypsy community. Girls and boys should have access to education that can teach them about relationships. Girls need the knowledge to be able to challenge outdated behaviours towards women, as well as having a recognised body to turn to for help if necessary.
In conclusion, if we can deal with the accommodation problems faced by this group, we can go some way towards beginning to make sure that the appropriate services are there to give assistance with the issues that the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities face.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Whitaker most warmly for giving us the opportunity to look at this issue again. She consistently does a great deal of work in this area. I must also say how good it is to see the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in our midst. There was great respect for him across the Floor in his ministerial days, as well as a feeling that he really was engaging with the issues that so often came before us. To see him continuing that interest in this debate is significantly encouraging.
I declare an interest: I am president of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights, and I see this as fundamentally a human rights issue. I will repeat part of what my noble friend Lady Whitaker said, because none of us can escape these basic statistics. As the Commons committee pointed out, contrary to general opinion, 74% of the GRT communities live in bricks and mortar. Educational attainment is the lowest of any group. Life expectancy is 10 to 12 years lower than for the rest of the population. One in five mothers can expect a child to die, as opposed to one in 100 for the rest of us. Some 14% report bad health. One survey showed that 91% of those surveyed had experienced discrimination, and 77% had experienced actual hate crime or hate speech.
We cannot sweep this under the carpet. As my noble friend said, we cannot drive by on the other side; we all have responsibilities. She pointed out some of the areas where there are specific responsibilities, such as in schools. I am sure that she would agree that we have to be careful in not seeming to indicate that it is the teachers’ fault. It is not: very often, teachers in the most deprived parts of the country are hard pressed beyond imagination and desperately trying to cope with educating with limited means and resources. It is a matter of making sure that the resources are there to give teachers space to take their responsibilities seriously and do adventurous things in response.
The same point could be made with doctors: so often—I would not say always—the doctors who seem to be unresponsive are again working under incredible pressure in deprived areas. It is very difficult to find the space. Again, there is an issue of resources. If we will the ends, we must argue for the resources to be allocated as they should be.
What has happened about a work stream within the Race Disparity Unit to eliminate inequalities faced by Gypsies and Travellers? What has happened about an analysis of the scale of issues faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, including those of school age who may be missing from local authority registers or facing challenges in accessing the right educational provision? What has happened about providing and ensuring proper support for children educated at home? The challenges are great. We must respond.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing this important report to the attention of our House. It is perhaps not insignificant that my family name is as it is, and I should declare my own membership of the all-party group. Given my family background in horticulture in the Vale of Evesham—although we moved from there—I have some experience in those activities of employing Gypsies and Travellers, though they no longer form part of my farming activities or my declared interests.
In a debate such as this, one has to be extremely selective. I do not intend to talk today about hate crime. Although it is an important topic, it sometimes functions as a kind of displacement activity for what should be our concern about continuing systemic exclusion and low standards. A second area on which we should not perhaps spend time is sites, except to say that the committee makes a telling point about the health implications of low-standard sites.
One issue that particularly concerns me is the need to maintain a proper balance between the needs of Gypsy and Traveller families, individuals and children and their adjustment to an official world that is increasingly dependent on postcodes—places you live—and digital access. Although the committee rightly points out that some three-quarters of such families are no longer nomadic, and there are legacy issues about standards of education and suspicion of officialdom, in no sense should we allow these to trick us into trying to commit social engineering by default or by administrative incompetence.
As a former Education Minister, I sometimes raised a few eyebrows—alongside my late wife, who shared these passions—by emphasising the importance of further education, continuing education and, above all, adult literacy. Alongside the business of securing reliable attendance at school, these must be the building blocks in countering disadvantage—though I would now add a digital element to that, too. They are the magic keys for future empowerment of Gypsy and Traveller families.
However, the Commons report is right in calling for a single focus across government to drive this agenda forward in all areas of access to services. We need known officials in overall charge and with sufficient influence across the delivery departments. If they have that, they can act as a focus for representations from the Gypsy and Traveller community relating to shared problems.
Perhaps there is no villain in this argument other than inertia. Successive inquiries and successive government responses have shown good will towards moving in the right direction, but, this time, we have to grasp the nettle. We need to resolve collectively to effect radical and sustained improvement.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Boswell’s compelling and personal speech. I declare my interest as president of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma—an interest that I am very proud of. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on tabling the debate and thank her for being a continuing inspiration who has respect across the whole House for the way that she has kept at this issue over many years. We are at a pivotal moment.
The Women and Equalities Committee, chaired very ably by Maria Miller, castigated this and indeed successive Governments quite correctly for inertia—my noble friend Lord Boswell used exactly the right word, because that is what it is. There is no lack of intention: there is in fact a unity of purpose. The committee rightly honed in on some of the problems that we had and made strong recommendations. The Government accepted them. In the dying days of when I was still a Minister, I remember a cross-departmental meeting to take forward this strategy. I came out of that meeting and what amazed me was the unity of purpose. People across different wings of the party, with different backgrounds, all said that something had to be done. There was a unity of purpose in different departments. Justice was represented there, as were health, education, the Home Office and HCLG, and I came out of that meeting thinking that we had a real opportunity to do something, and we must.
We have all referred to some of the incredibly worrying statistics on health, education and abuse and the need to involve more people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in public life. To have examples with whom people can identify is of crucial importance in moving this forward. I was particularly pleased to see a young member of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, Samson Rattigan, receive an honour in the last honours list. That was great news. These are our communities. One of my proudest moments as a Minister was laying a wreath on the grave of a Gypsy VC in Scunthorpe, Jack Cunningham. Nothing could illustrate better that this is all of us, and for too long we have acted against and not helped the other.
One person has been pivotal to progress. I had a couple of meetings with him, one at the Appleby Horse Fair, which noble Lords will know is central to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller life—and a great festival it is—and one when I met him individually. Billy Welch is the head Gypsy, and someone who really needs to be involved in any strategy to help drive it forward. He is a man of great energy and ability and we would be extremely unwise not to harness his skills and ability to bring people together.
There are some positive signs. We fund things such as GATE Herts, which works with victims of hatred against the GRT community. Sherrie Smith does great work there. Friends, Families and Travellers, with Sarah Mann and Abbie Kirkby does great work and I would like to mention it on the record. I was also very proud that the Government were represented at the 75th commemoration of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Holocaust at Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was no longer a Minister when that came round, but so committed was I to the event that I went out as an individual under my own steam, because it was an extremely important moment. Civil servants were there and the Government recognised the importance of it.
Central to all of this is the Race Disparity Unit, which is one of the great things that the last Government introduced, driven by the then Prime Minister, Theresa May. But it is no good having that data if we do nothing with it. I put down a Question last week to ask what was happening to it and the response was, “We are still collecting the data”—I paraphrase slightly. We need to do something with the data, for goodness sake, and move the dial. We have a real opportunity in this Parliament to do just that and make a real difference. I am pleased that this debate was tabled. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, again.
I join all noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for securing this debate and for her excellent introduction to it. I am also pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in focusing on some positives, because it is important. Sometimes in these kinds of debates we focus on all the problems and difficulties. One of the things I want to do in my brief contribution is to focus on some positives.
However, to begin: the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, was right to focus on scapegoating. That is a real issue, and we as British society need to acknowledge collectively that we have a problem with racism. Some of the most extreme racism is directed at the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller communities. That is a fact, and it is here in this report. We are, however, grouping together three large and very diverse groups here, and as a resident of Sheffield I will focus on one particular community: the largely very recently-arrived Slovak Roma community in Sheffield.
I direct the Minister’s attention to a couple of reports that she may not be aware of, because they are important, positive and constructive contributions to this debate. One is titled Roma in Sheffield: Mapping services and local priorities. We are debating in this House of Lords at the centre of privilege, but we have to start by saying—as this report does: “listen to Roma priorities” to engage and hear what this community in Sheffield, and other communities that we are discussing, have to say. The report finds that there are significant gaps in the knowledge of many staff working with the Roma in Sheffield. The Government can and should be doing more on that, as indeed this report highlights.
We need to stress, and it is worth saying, that we are debating a report that was ordered to be printed on 29 March 2019. The third thing that the report says is that services need to react quickly to changes. In the world we are in now with Brexit, and with many people having come to Britain very recently, there are some real issues here; we have to be more nimble.
The other study carried out in Sheffield is called Nurturing Slovak Roma Children at Secondary School. The title refers to the fact that the first language of many of the schoolchildren is Romany, which is not necessarily a formalised, single language but a group of languages. Their second language is Slovak and their third is English. I point in particular to an article in a Slovak weekly called .týžden that profiles one young man, Andre, who came here as an 11 year-old, speaking no English. He is now a first-year psychology student. He does regular translation work and goes into schools, interpreting between Slovak, English and Romany, but he can also translate from Hungarian and French when required.
I have just come from the APPG on small and microbusinesses. There was a lot of discussion about the problems of Britain—of productivity and skills shortages. Perhaps we should be thinking about this in another kind of way: these communities have an enormous range of skills and can make huge contributions. Perhaps we do not focus on that enough. We know from everything this report tells us that we are not opening up and allowing those skills to flourish.
My final point is that like many of these communities the Roma have moved into some of the most disadvantaged areas of Sheffield, where they are living side by side with people suffering great disadvantage, racism and discrimination. We need to think about how we help communities to live together.
I thank noble Lords for finding time for me to contribute to this debate. I, too, thank my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for bringing us together to have this important debate. I declare an interest as chair of the advisory group for the Race Disparity Unit and as a board member of the Open Society’s Roma Initiatives Office.
I begin by congratulating the newest heavyweight boxing champion of the world: Tyson Fury. Let us not forget that he is to global Gypsies, Roma and Travellers what Muhammad Ali has been to the African diaspora: a role model. He is a role model who wears his culture —his identity—on his sleeve: a supreme role model.
As one of the individuals who have helped inspire the Race Disparity Audit, I am proud of what the Government have achieved with it. As the chair of the Race Disparity Audit, I can say that we have been driving this agenda. We clearly recognise that there are monstrous gaps in the data, and it should be the Government’s priority to fill those gaps. Along with that, as the advisory group we need to be empowered to challenge all the government departments with the mantra, “Explain these disparities, or change”. If we do so—when we do so—we will close these persistent inequality gaps.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, on securing this important debate and on setting out the issues so clearly. I agree with everything that she and other speakers have said. The inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are dear to my heart. Not long after I was first elected to Somerset County Council in 1993, I chaired a working group looking into exactly this issue in Somerset. The report of the Women and Equalities Committee of March 2019 struck many chords with me, and it is deeply depressing to find that there has been little progress in the intervening years.
GRT communities still face discrimination, abuse and poor access to services. During my time investigating the issues, we visited communities with a Gypsy liaison officer who supported the group. Some of these visits were encouraging, but others were overwhelmingly hostile and aggressive. I personally cannot understand why some communities appear to be frightened of groups that are different from them. Nevertheless, Somerset did set up both permanent and transit sites for Gypsies and Travellers.
It was the case that access to services, both educational and health, were down to individual committed people. I was disappointed to note in the House of Commons report that this is still the case. Services in some areas are reliant on the dedication of individuals, and when these people move on, the services falter and in some cases become non-existent. It is the right of every child, whatever their ethnicity or background, to have access to education; schools and teachers must ensure that this happens. It is also their right to have access to healthcare and to be safe from abuse.
For the 25% of GRT communities who still travel and are based in caravans, the lack of a permanent address is a significant barrier to gaining access to healthcare, banking facilities and education. For those of us in the settled community, getting a GP appointment can be a major undertaking. For those on the move, it is an impossibility—hence their reliance on A&E departments. This may well suffice for accidents, but it is certainly not a satisfactory route for pregnant mothers or young children.
I was disappointed in the government response to the very impressive report by the committee, but I was not surprised. The Government appear not to want to own this subject—although I know some noble Lords do not agree with me. There have been lots of fine words but no real action. As for thinking that £200,000 provided by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for six projects will help solve the problem, that is laughable. Where is the commitment to evaluate these projects and roll them out nationwide, with plans and timescales, so that learning can be shared and embedded? Why has this not happened?
In paragraph 23 of the report, the government response says that homes and communities should work with grass-roots organisations to formulate a wide-ranging campaign. This should be a legal requirement, otherwise nothing will happen.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said, there is no commitment to piloting pupil passport schemes, with rapid evaluation. There is nothing to enable schools to apply for the pupil premium for children who arrive once term has started. The life chances of boys and girls coming from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities is not equal: it never has been and, from what we read in the government response, is not likely to be in the near future. This is totally unacceptable, and I ask the noble Baroness to do something about it.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker on securing this debate today and pay tribute to her and the work she does in supporting the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. I also welcome the report by the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons. It has produced an excellent report and I was pleased to see that this time the Government made a response relatively promptly. The report sets out the very real challenges that the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities face and that they have the worst outcomes of any ethnic group in various areas, including education, health, employment, criminal justice and many others.
It is also true that local authorities and other providers of public services have failed these communities, in many cases by not understanding their specific needs as a distinct ethnic group, and that policymakers, both at a local and national level, have not helped in the way they should have to help address the needs of this community and produce better outcomes for them. I was struck that the report drew out the failure to deal with matters on a strategic basis as probably the biggest failure, and everything else flows from that.
My noble friend Lady Whitaker set out some of the prejudice and bigotry that this community suffers, such as not being able to register with a GP and problems in schools. These are really shocking failures and it is wrong that this community has suffered prejudice for many years and through many generations. It would be good if the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, could set out what specific actions she thinks the Government have to take to try to combat this very deep-seated discrimination, prejudice and racism.
There is a lack of trust and there is a stop-start approach to projects and initiatives. The report talked about how good work is funded, but it is very stop-start in nature; people move on and the good work falls back. I think people in these communities have the right to expect better support and better protection from the law—laws which apply to everyone in the UK—and their children deserve support as well to ensure that they get a proper education. That is their legal right. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans highlighted, there is good practice and we should celebrate where there is good practice and acknowledge good work takes place. The noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, challenged local authorities to do more—and I endorse her call. But let us be clear: the racism and bigotry that this community suffers clearly impinge on the behavioural response of some local authorities. There is no question about that whatever, and that is not good.
I agree with the comments made by my noble friend Lord Judd, and I am also delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, taking part in this debate. His contributions today were, as always, very thoughtful and useful. I miss our debates across the Dispatch Box, but we are now in the same corridor, so we see each other on most days anyway. I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, in congratulating Tyson Fury. The noble Lord was absolutely right in his analogy with Muhammad Ali after Fury won the World Boxing Council belt and became world champion at the weekend.
The report raises many challenges for Government at a national but also a local government level. It will be good to hear from the noble Baroness, when she responds to the debate, what plans the Government have to address the very serious issues that have been outlined here. It was good to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, about where government is beginning to work on cutting across these, because the only way to get these things right is to get other departments to address these very serious issues. I look forward to the response from the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, for bringing this Question to the Committee. I commend her on her long and active involvement with these communities and her thoughtful and thought-provoking speech. She is right to be gratified by the number of speakers.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, rightly drew attention to the excellent work the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, undertook in this area and I am very conscious that I have very large boots to fill here. Last year, the Government welcomed the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s report. We commend the committee’s findings and agree that health and education inequalities for these communities must be tackled. The poor-quality accommodation that the report highlighted must be a concern to us all, and all violence against women and girls is unacceptable.
The Government’s recent race disparity audit highlights further evidence that demonstrates the serious disparities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. On almost every measure, as many have pointed out, they are significantly worse off than the general population, but the Government have been working hard across a broad policy front to improve outcomes for these communities. However, there is still more to do.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is therefore leading efforts to develop a co-ordinated cross-government strategy to improve outcomes for these communities. Government departments including the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and the Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Office will work together. The work must be rooted in people’s experiences and challenges; therefore, the Government, through the work of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, are committed to seeking the involvement and input of the communities as they consider how to tackle these issues.
Some steps have already been taken to engage a diverse range of voices within Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government sustains ongoing engagement through its core Gypsy, Roma and Traveller liaison group. It has regular contact and discussions with other community representatives and public sector delivery agencies, both front-line services and charities. In parallel, the Government have funded pilot projects to support these communities. These projects are currently being evaluated to identify key outcomes and transferrable lessons.
As the Women and Equalities Select Committee report notes, the Government do not yet collect comprehensive, reliable and consistent data across policy and service areas. The full extent of the challenges faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in England cannot be known until that is rectified. Without robust data, the Government cannot measure improvements for these communities with changes in policy and the development of a strategy. That is why the Government are taking several steps.
The census White Paper recommended the inclusion of a tick box to improve the identification of people from the Roma community specifically, in addition to the existing Gypsy or Irish Traveller tick box. The Race Disparity Unit and the Office for National Statistics are now engaging with departments and agencies. This is to ensure that, once the census order is approved, those responsible for administrative systems that record ethnicity set out their commitment to use the 2021 census classification. The Office for National Statistics will work with the Roma population, assisting Roma organisations to provide reassurance and support for local communities and raising awareness of the Roma response option.
The Race Disparity Unit is also developing a quality improvement plan, which will be published this year. This plan will outline actions that the Race Disparity Unit will take, in collaboration with other departments, to address issues related to the quality of ethnicity data. The plan will also set out actions to improve data for all ethnic groups, including the harmonisation and quality of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller data.
In addition to this welcome and positive change to the national census, other work is planned to improve health data collection. NHS England and NHS Improvement, along with the Department of Health and Social Care and other stakeholders, are conducting a scoping exercise. This will identify the equality monitoring data gathered from across major National Health Service datasets and propose the equality data that should be gathered and how. Roma are the largest ethnic minority group in Europe, yet information on the Roma population size and location in the United Kingdom is sparse.
I will move on to the safety of accommodation. Having a safe place to live is a right for everyone, whether you are in bricks and mortar, a mobile home or a caravan. As the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government develops the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller strategy, it recognises the need to consider these issues. In parallel, the Government have made clear their commitment to tackling unauthorised encampments. The Government will consider the outcome of the current consultation to progress this.
On site provision, it is the responsibility of local authorities to assess the need for Gypsy and Traveller sites in their area. It is then their responsibility to plan to meet that need, as they are required to do for all forms of housing. The Government have committed to consider making information on permanent and transit sites in planning plans freely available in open data format. This will improve data held on site provision and provide a clear source of data on the availability of such sites. This will also help determine which authorities have in place an up-to-date plan for Travellers.
Local authorities can bid for funding for permanent Traveller sites through the 2016-21 shared ownership and affordable homes programme, along with other forms of affordable housing. The new homes bonus will match-fund the additional council tax raised for new homes. This will include Traveller pitches.
Education was another important area that concerned most speakers this evening. Clearly, education is the key for the future health, prosperity and traditions of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. When children miss school time, it can have only a negative effect on their life chances. The Government have already taken significant steps to support local authorities in meeting their duties in relation to children missing education.
In September 2016, the education regulations 2006 were amended to improve the education and welfare of pupils. This is done through better information sharing between schools and local authorities where pupils are removed from and added to the school admission register. It will enable local authorities to comply better with their duty to make arrangements to identify children of compulsory school age who are not registered at school and are not receiving suitable education elsewhere.
In some cases, home education can be the best choice for that child. Unfortunately, in some cases, it can lead to a poorer quality of education. That is why the Government published revised guidance in April 2019 to help local authorities ensure that home-educated children receive a suitable education. The guidance sets out how effective use of existing powers can ensure that home education is suitable and, if it is not, what action can be taken to secure school attendance.
One reason for elective home education can be that a child is being bullied at school. As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, brought attention to this and to Ofsted, perhaps I should clarify that schools have the freedom to develop their own anti-bullying strategies appropriate to their environment and are then held to account by Ofsted. All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy that outlines measures to encourage good behaviour and prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. I again reassure the noble Baroness that we do not shy away from the findings of the Timpson report.
The Department for Education is continuing to support schools to create disciplined and safe environments. In November 2018, the department published Respectful School Communities. This was a self-review and signposting tool to support schools to develop a whole-school approach promoting respect and discipline to all their communities. This can combat bullying, harassment and prejudice of any kind. As well as this guidance and these regulations, the Department for Education is demonstrating its commitment to reducing bullying by providing over £2.8 million of funding to four anti-bullying organisations between September 2016 and March 2020. The funding will support schools across the country to tackle this important issue.
A school education is not just about academic issues. From September 2020, relationships education will be compulsory for all primary-age pupils. Relationships and sex education will be compulsory for all secondary-age pupils, and health education will be compulsory for pupils of all ages in all state-funded schools. These subjects are designed to equip children with knowledge to make informed decisions about wellbeing, health and relationships. The subjects will also prepare them for a successful adult life in modern Britain. Young people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities who attend these wellbeing-related lessons will learn how to empower themselves and ultimately reach their potential without difficult relationships or gender roles standing in their way.
I move on to health. The 2011 census for England and Wales revealed that 14% of Gypsies or Travellers described their health as bad or very bad. This was more than twice as high as the white British group. However, I am pleased to report that the Government are already making headway in this area. The new three-year contract for the Care Quality Commission’s Experts by Experience programme includes representation for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities through the national charity, Friends, Families and Travellers.
Alongside this programme, the existing health inequalities funding adjustment is being reviewed by the independent expert group that advises National Health Service England on resource allocations. The group will consider a range of issues, including how the adjustment is used to meet a range of objectives, including the issues raised by noble Lords this evening in relation to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. This work will report in 2021.
During 2019-20, National Health Service England already focused on a range of work programmes with the aim of addressing and reducing health inequalities. It worked with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller partners through the Health and Wellbeing Alliance and commissioned areas of work on improving their health needs. It also worked with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller partners to develop health inequalities learning resources which support the primary care networks to address health inequalities for all inclusion health groups.
However, it is recognised that these communities have a complex relationship with accessing services from a long history of discrimination by authorities. A lack of trust and low health expectations mean that some members of these communities do not engage with preventive health services and find it difficult to access other services. This particularly impacts women and mothers. That is why National Health Service England will implement an enhanced and targeted continuity of care model to help improve outcomes for the most vulnerable mothers and babies. Women will receive continuity of care from their midwife throughout pregnancy, labour and the postnatal period. National Health Service England has also developed a new primary care access card. This will replace the current leaflet supporting and empowering inclusion health groups to register with general practice services without facing discrimination of access to timely healthcare services.
Discrimination is experienced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people not just in relation to housing, education and healthcare access. These communities also experience hate crime, which permeates all aspects of their lives. Tackling racially motivated hate crime remains a priority for the Government. We know that 76% of reported hate crime is racially motivated. Knowing this, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is supporting a range of projects to tackle racism. As my noble friend Lord Bourne mentioned, this includes working with GATE in Hertfordshire. GATE is a community-led organisation that works with victims of hate crime within Gypsy and Traveller communities. The organisation helps to increase awareness, build confidence to report, and improve accessibility to reporting mechanisms and support. This is in line with the objectives of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government hate crime action plan, which seeks to increase reporting and improve support for victims. It also seeks to build understanding of hate crime to ensure that government, public bodies and partners can respond to it and prevent it in future.
On Roma groups specifically, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned so powerfully, it is important to flag that the Government want European Union citizens to stay in this country. Therefore, the Government have made it free and easy for European citizens to get UK immigration status. Ultimately, those who fail to make an application will not have lawful status in the UK. Yet the Government have always been clear that where European Union citizens have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, an applicant will be given a further opportunity to apply. The Government’s compassionate and flexible approach will ensure that individuals who miss the deadline through no fault of their own can still get lawful status in the United Kingdom. The Home Office has funded a number of Roma organisations to cater for this hard-to-reach group and offer support in the application process, and as part of a children’s strategy, the Home Office has worked specifically with support organisations who work with Roma children and families to ensure that the barriers facing this community are prioritised.
As I emphasised at the start of this debate, the Government have committed to developing policy and a cross-government strategy to tackle inequalities. We recognise the need for this to take account of the important issues that noble Lords have highlighted. I am grateful to many noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for focusing on the positive moves in Sheffield and the work with Roma children in schools to address language issues, and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, for reminding us of the immense achievement of Tyson Fury. I am grateful to noble Lords for bringing these important issues to Grand Committee, shining a spotlight on aspects to ensure that they get the attention that is merited. Let us hope that we can lift the inertia and take these issues forward, as my noble friend Lord Bourne suggested, with a unity of purpose.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans asked what was the Government’s view on civil injunctions on Travellers parking on land. That is a matter for the courts to rule in the individual circumstances relating to local authorities. My noble friend Lady Chisholm asked about the national GRT strategy in the 22 projects that were announced in the summer. The 22 projects are those mentioned in the government and Ofsted response to the Women and Equalities Committee report.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked what had happened about the analysis of the scale of students who may be missing from school. The Government have already taken significant steps to support local authorities in meeting their needs in relation to children missing education, which I covered in the main body of my speech. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about access to healthcare, particularly to GPs, without a permanent address. NHS England and NHS Improvement have continued to deliver improvements in prevention and access to primary care medical services, which I covered most of in my speech. If I have been unable to answer anyone tonight, I will gladly respond to their questions in writing.
Committee adjourned at 7.29 pm.