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Roma Community: Levelling Up

Volume 823: debated on Monday 27 June 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how their levelling up plans take into account the needs of the Roma community.

The Government have set out 12 national levelling-up missions which are already beginning to drive real change across the United Kingdom, including for our Roma communities. They include investing £1.4 million in targeted educational support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children. We will continue to work across government to tackle inequalities.

I am aware of the Government’s plans to deal with the Roma community, but two weeks ago the submissions from local government closed. What guarantee is there that the funding going via local authorities will be ring-fenced for the Roma community and that it will not bring them into conflict with the new extended police power to move people on?

It is for local authorities to work on their own local housing need. While tackling unauthorised encampments, we have recognised the need also to provide more opportunities for stopping sites. That is why we have invested £10 million in enabling both more permanent and temporary provision for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

My Lords, an investigation by the Education Select Committee into the achievement of Gypsy and Roma children is under way. Only 8.1% of those children achieve a grade 5 or higher pass at GSCE English and Maths, compared to 49.9% of other pupils. What percentage of Gypsy and Roma children currently attract pupil premium funding? Is there a case that the level of funding should be higher, akin to that which looked-after children attract?

More than 14,000 Gypsy, Roma, Traveller or Irish heritage pupils are eligible for free school meals, representing over 40% of GRT pupils. GRT pupils do not attract the pupil premium per se, but the Government have increased the amount of money to £2.6 billion in 2022-23. I will look at and discuss with my noble friend in the Department for Education the level set for GRT pupils.

My Lords, mission 7 of the Government’s White Paper on levelling up in the UK aims to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030. However, there is no mention in it at all of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Given that the life expectancy of GRT people is 10 to 25 years less than that of the general population, can the Minister say what the Government are doing to target this disparity?

The levelling-up White Paper does not mention specific communities; it sets the overall ambition. However, it is fair to say that the Government, through the Health and Wellbeing Alliance, have commissioned health guidance for Roma communities. The guidance has been developed by the Roma Support Group, which is part of the Health and Wellbeing Alliance and NHS England, and this will be published as part of the migrant health guide.

My Lords, in 2019 the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, the Minister’s very effective predecessor, announced a cross-departmental strategy to level out the horrendous inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. I know the Minister is sympathetic to the strategy, but nothing has been announced—no plan, no strategy, no aims, no actions, no lines of accountability—since 2019. Indeed, since then the Education Select Committee, the House of the Lords Public Services Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have all commented on the severe disparities in all the outcomes. What are the Government going to do about the cross-departmental strategy? Does it still exist?

My Lords, I recognise that we have not yet published the strategy but I take issue with the idea that we have not moved forward. We have made progress: we have launched the £10 million Traveller site fund for 2022-23; we have invested £1.4 million in targeted programmes, with various pilot projects to improve educational outcomes; and, as I said in response to a previous question, we are developing specific guidance to improve health outcomes in the Roma community. So, while we do not have a strategy, the Government have taken tangible steps to level up and benefit the GRT community.

My Lords, Roma used to be able to travel the land finding work as casual agricultural workers and stopping in traditional, unofficial places. The police and crime Bill will now prevent this, but local authorities are not required to provide legally serviced sites for them. The Roma are the last group in society to whom equalities do not appear to apply. Is the Minister not ashamed of the appalling inequalities that these citizens suffer constantly?

The Government made a manifesto commitment to tackle unauthorised encampments, but we recognise that not all of them cause harm or disruption. We recognise the financial costs to communities, businesses and landowners of clearing up sites and repairing damages. That is why we have announced the £10 million fund, which has been well oversubscribed. There are opportunities for local authorities to access that fund as well as the £10.5 billion affordable homes fund, but it is the local planning authorities’ duty to work out what they should be providing.

My Lords, can the Minister set out in specific terms what steps he is taking, working with the Department of Health and Social Care, to improve health outcomes for the Roma community, especially as the health disparities White Paper is being prepared and the ICBs are being established?

We set out a clear mission in the levelling-up White Paper to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by five years. We are creating clear guidance for the community, as I have already mentioned, and I am sure that more of the plan will be revealed in the health disparities White Paper in due course.

My Lords, my noble friend asked about the national strategy and progress, but surely one of the problems is the Government’s ongoing resistance to cross-departmental strategies on race equality issues. How will the levelling-up Bill address this? How will it get that resistance sorted and get departments to genuinely work together to improve outcomes for the Roma community?

My Lords, we have a lead Minister who is responsible for equalities matters and has taken on the brief as Communities Minister. My honourable friend Kemi Badenoch is charged with those duties and I am sure will bring forward plans in due course.

My Lords, will my noble friend explain what happens to the funding awarded to a Gypsy, Traveller or Roma child if that child fails to complete the academic year, which is disruptive not just for that child but for all the children in that class?

I guess I will have to write to my noble friend on the specific point about what happens to funding, but the Government’s focus is on ensuring that we improve provision and keep more GRT children in mainstream schooling.

My Lords, the original Statement about the strategy referred to entrenched inequality, and last year we were told that the strategy would be published in due course. Why has it not yet been published? Is there no strategy?

For a great period of time when I held the brief before my colleague Kemi Badenoch, we were working on a clear set of plans, some of which have already been announced. Irrespective of whether or not there is a document, we have a plan around improving temporary and permanent site provision, which is why we have announced the fund. We have plans around improving educational opportunities for GRT children by leading with five pilots with local authorities. I am sure that more will be announced in due course.

My Lords, in a recent conversation with Billy Welch, who organises the Appleby Horse Fair and lives in Darlington, he asked—while recognising the deep problems that have been highlighted in all these questions—that we please start talking about the positive contributions that GRT communities make. Would the Minister like to comment on his view?

Yes, we recognise that GRT communities make a positive contribution. There is a clear commitment to support them in carrying on their way of life and nomadic traditions. That is why we have announced the fund to give them more opportunities for stopping sites and make it easier for them to live the way that they want to live.