The Tories are planning to pass new laws to stop Travellers setting up sites to live on. This follows the violent eviction of Dale Farm last summer, where an entire community was forced off their land by a militarised police operation.
Britain’s Traveller community has been the victim of decades of racist attacks by Labour and Tory governments. Once again the government is using Travellers as scapegoats for their economic policies which attack all working people and benefit the rich.
In 1968 under a Labour government the Caravan Sites Act was brought in and around 400 caravan parks were built around Britain. However the act was basically cancelled out by the Criminal Justice act in 1994 which scrapped the duty on councils to provide land for Travellers.
The new law will allow town halls to put up stop notices as well as imposing unlimited fine and setting the police on peaceful communities who refuse to be shunted around like rubbish. This will give even greater power to big landowners who don’t live on the land, or work on the land, to profit from it by building useless luxury housing and offices.
Instead of trying to reduce the impact of the economic crisis on jobs, healthcare and education the Tories are more concerned with defending the right of millionaires to have instant access to police and councils to defend their property.
Eric Pickles, the community secretary claims the changes are to ‘prevent violent stand offs’ like the one we saw last year. What he fails to mention is the fact that the only reason there was any kind of ‘stand-off’ was because the local waged a ten year campaign of demonization in order to drive people out of their homes. Travellers at Dale Farm had been sold the land ten years previously and had created an integrated and successful community, yet they were still forced out by police with batons, dogs and a media hate campaign.
Given that 90% of Travellers’ planning applications are rejected as opposed to the national average of 20% it is clear that Travellers are subject to a racist policy which prevents them from building stable communities.
With a massive housing crisis and no affordable houses being built it is difficult to see where people are supposed to live if they are unable to afford rent or purchase a property. On top of this local authority departments often refuse to put travellers on housing waiting lists because they have not been a resident in the housing authority area for more than six months. The government should be taxing the rich to build millions of new homes that are affordable to all, of a decent standard and accessible to all whether they have been a resident of that area or not.
Opinion polls showed that during the incident 63% of British people supported the eviction; this is due to racist stereotypes thrown around by the media that travellers are lazy, criminal and dirty. Politicians and the press are able to use language about travellers that they wouldn’t be able to about other ethnic groups due to the lack of organisation and support around them.
Travellers should be allowed to set up permanent sites with proper social facilities such as running hot water and electricity and be able to gain easy access to nearby educational facilities. We need to be fighting back against the prejudices they face daily, every time they walk into a shop or their children go to school. Just because they don’t choose to live in a house doesn’t mean they’re not entitled to the same support and welfare system as everyone else.