Working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities (GRT)

 

This new article has been written as a quick guide for social care practice with the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. It explains what is meant by the term GRT and a little about the culture before providing some top tips to maximise engagement, and some links to a range of further learning resources. 

Who are the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities? 

Definition

The Housing Act 2004 defines the communities as: 

persons with a cultural tradition of nomadism or of living in a caravan, and all other persons of a nomadic habit of life, whatever their race or origin”. 

Nomadism is: 

“A way of life whereby people choose to travel from one place to another rather than living in the same place all the time.” 

The following are examples of the different groups of people that are Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities:

Romany Gypsies from Eastern Europe - This group originally migrated from India arriving in Eastern Europe in the 15th century and some have migrated to Western Europe.  

Irish Travellers - This group can be traced back to the 12th century with migration to the UK in the early 19th century. 

Scottish and Welsh Travellers - This group consists of diverse communities that speak different languages and dialects with distinct customs, histories and traditions.  

New Age Travellers - This group started in the early 60s, from alternative eco and festival related lifestyles.  

Travelling Show Communities - These are people who run fairs, circuses and travel around for their employment.  

Bargees and other communities who live on boats - These are people who live on narrow boats or other vessels. 

Characteristics, customs and rules

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities tend to have their own customs, traditions and rules. 

Individuals do not always have knowledge or regard for those upheld by the wider population, which can lead to local conflict arising. 

Other shared characteristics include: 

  • The importance of family (including marriage and having children); 
  • The importance of community networks; 
  • A tendency toward self-employment. 

Settled and unsettled communities

Settled communities are those that consider moving around to be part of their identity and heritage, but do not move around, or do not move around all the time. They live in homes made of ‘bricks and mortar’. This accounts for around 75% of the GRT communities. 

Unsettled communities live in a caravan or other mobile or temporary structure. 

Unsettled communities population size

In terms of unsettled Traveller communities, in 2018 across England the population was 22,662.  

57% lived on private land, 29% on authorised sites (operated by local authorities or social housing providers) and 14% on unauthorised sites.  

Of the 14% on unauthorised sites, 65% were living on land owned by the Traveller community and 35% on public or unauthorised private land. The latter equated to 944 caravans.

Discrimination, Prejudice and Disadvantage 

Discrimination and prejudice

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities can experience prejudice and discrimination, often fuelled by negative depictions in the media. Many also experience a higher incident of hate crimes when compared to the general population. 

Unlike any other minority groups, the negative behaviour experienced by GRT communities is often deemed socially acceptable, with little or no consequence for the perpetrator/s.   

This often-unchallenged discrimination and prejudice happens even though all Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, (including the settled communities), are recognised as ethnic groups under the Race Relations Act 1976, and as such protected by the Equality Act 2010. Individuals are also entitled to all the same rights as everyone else under the Human Rights Act 1998. 

Disadvantages

The communities are widely considered to be among the most socially excluded communities in the UK and this marginalisation from the rest of society has led to several disadvantages. 

The following are some of the known disadvantages experienced by GRT communities: 

Life expectancy 

A much lower life expectancy than the general population (around 10-12 years less). 

Maternity issues 

Higher rates of infant mortality, maternal deaths and stillbirths. 

Education 

Low attainment in education, including literacy (the ability to read and write). 

Under-representation in decisions 

Exclusion from decisions and consultations around the planning and delivery of government services (including health, education and social care). 

Health 

Higher rates of mortality, morbidity and long-term health issues, including higher suicide rates and poor health literacy. 

Housing 

The community is experiencing a huge housing crisis with many living in unauthorised encampments facing constant evictions or being forced into housing where they are isolated from their communities and traditions. 

Language barriers 

Most GRT communities can speak English, butas a second language, preferring to use their traditional tongue whenever possible. For example, Irish Travellers use “Cant” or “Gammon”.  

Digital exclusion 

Digital exclusion is also higher amongst the GTR communities which is a barrier in terms of accessing services. 

Employment 

Much of the community struggles to find mainstream employment due to discrimination. Often people conceal their ethnicity or address to obtain work, or to attract business if self-employed 

Benefits 

Some GTR communities make little use of benefits and may have a cultural bias against claiming them. This can lead to poverty and difficulties for the person and the community, particularly those who cannot work due to health issues. 

Criminal justice 

Prisoners who are part of the GTR community are significantly over-represented in the prison population and more likely to be involved in the court system. They are also more likely to suffer victimisation in prisons. 

Children’s Services intervention 

There is a higher incident of children being placed in the care of the local authority, mainly due to concerns about domestic violence. This can lead to a distrust and poor working relationship with health and social care professionals/organisations. 

Challenging discrimination, prejudice and disadvantage

Social care interventions should actively seek to challenge discrimination, reduce disadvantages and improve outcomes for those with a need for care and support, and their carers. 

In fact, the Public Sector Equality Duty (s.149 of the Equality Act) specifically requires public sector officials and representatives to not only refrain from discrimination against the community but to advance equality and good relations in their day-to-day practices.   

Working with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities 

Due to their experiences and customs, GTR communities can be reluctant to accept/wary of any kind of intervention or support from outside of their own community. This is exacerbated when the professional wanting to intervene they see as someone who could take legal action to e.g., remove a child or vulnerable adult from the community.   

The response to professionals can sometimes be hostile, especially if the engagement is unexpected or takes place is an authoritarian way.  

Engaging in a meaningful way can take time and creativity.

Tips to maximise engagement

Building trust 

Building trust is essential but not easy. 

  • Be honest and open 
  • Do what you say and when 
  • Use advocacy from within the community or a specialist provider 
  • Show interest and respect 
  • Show empathy 
  • Set expectations for the intervention 
  • Spend time building rapport before carrying out any professional intervention 
  • Recognise what is important to someone 

Don’t give up 

It can take time and you may be rejected several times before acceptance. Try different methods of engagement e.g., in person, phone, text, leave a note. 

Manage power imbalances 

Think about: 

  • Body language 
  • Tone of voice 
  • Use of academic/legal words 
  • What you wear 
  • What you drive 
  • Where you meet (outreach approach is more effective) 

Anything that can be interpreted as a show of power or superiority can make engagement difficult. 

Cultural competence 

Be aware of the customs, values and rules of the GRT community you are working with. Understand how these impact on life choices and decision-making. Value diversity. 

Don’t make assumptions 

Although each community may share some common characteristics and customs everyone should still be seen as unique.  This means that assumptions should not be made, and a personalised approach always taken. 

Human Rights approach 

Uphold the basic human rights of all in everything you do. Support the community to understand their rights and to exercise them. Sensitively explain when the community may be breaching the Human Rights of an individual and work together to explore alternative options. 

Self-awareness 

Challenge your own assumptions and bias about GRT communities. Be aware of anything you could do or say that may affect the success of any engagement or be seen as discrimination. 

Language and communication 

Use appropriate language that is accessible-avoid jargon and terminology that may be unfamiliar. Explain what things mean in layman's terms. 

Consider how you share information and whether the recipient will understand it in the format provided. In some cases, easy read information or the use of interpreters from within the community may be helpful.  

Be prepared to do more 

It is likely that you will find yourself having to undertake things that may not necessarily fall under the normal remit of adult social care. For example-supporting someone to register with a GP or open a bank account. Where you may ordinarily request another agency support with these tasks, this may not be appropriate in a GRT community reluctant to engage. 

Work with specialist organisations

Specialist advocacy and support organisations that only work with GRT communities can be integral to the success of any intervention.  

Make sure you know your local service and what support it can provide so you know when the most appropriate time to do so will be.   

In addition to supporting the person directly, these organisations can be helpful in helping you to understand the community in which you are trying to engage and offer advice about the best way to do so. 

The following are some examples of organisations: 

Organisation 

Contact details 

Support provided 

Friends, Families and Travellers 

Community Base, 113 Queens Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN1 3XG 

Tel: 01273 234 777 
Fax: 01273 234 778 
Email: fft@gypsy-traveller.org 

https://www.gypsy-traveller.org/  

A whole range of advice and support with issues like: 

  • Accessing maternity advice and support 
  • Benefits and debt advice 
  • Applying for a pitch on a council site 
  • Finding healthcare 
  • Horse passports 
  • Legal aid 
  • Much, much more 

The Traveller Movement 

40 Jeffrey’s Road, Stockwell, London SW4 6QX 

Tel: 0207 607 2002 

Email: infor@travellersmovement.org.uk 

https://travellermovement.org.uk/  

A range of guides and information on key issues: 

  • Health 
  • Hate crime 
  • Rights with the police 
  • LGBT 
  • Children and family 

Roma Support Group 

Roma Support Group, P.O. Box 23610, London. E7 0XB 

Tel: 07949 089 7789 

Email: info@romasupportgroup.org.uk  

https://www.romasupportgroup.org.uk/  

Supporting the Roma communities in the London Boroughs of Newham, Hammersmith & Fulham, Redbridge, Ealing, Enfield and Waltham Forest. 

Offers advice and advocacy, including 2 drop-in centres in Cannin Town and White City.  

Travellers Space 

Rm 402, Fourth floor, PZ 360 St Mary Terrace, Penzance. TR18 4EB.  

TEL:  07939 210 014/07534 983 046 

https://travellerspace-cornwall.org/ 

Supporting gypsies and travellers in Cornwall and the Southwest with: 

 

  • Advocacy 
  • Accessing volunteering and training opportunities 
  • Providing play and creative opportunities 
  • Support to access health, welfare and education 
  • Training for professionals 

The following websites have lists of organisations across the UK offering support and advice (including specialist advice) the GRT communities: 

London Gypsies and Travellers 

http://www.londongypsiesandtravellers.org.uk/organisations/ 

Travellers Times 

http://travellerstimes.org.uk/advice  

Accessing healthcare

Access to healthcare is a real problem for GRT communities, especially being able to register with a GP. NHS England has produced a leaflet explaining how any barriers can be overcome and successful GP registration can be achieved. 

Registration with a GP should be encouraged and supported as a way of reducing disadvantage and preventing/delaying current or future healthcare needs. 

See: how-to-register-with-a-gp-gypsy-traveller-roma-communities.pdf (assets.nhs.uk) 

Cross boundary collaboration

If a community is nomadic, working with other local authorities and agencies is important in terms of safeguarding and delivering care and support when an individual or community moves between different areas. 

Further information and resources 

This video from Doncaster CCG highlights how culturally appropriate synonyms can improve interventions: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFnR5NhUVv8

This video from SCIE is an hour long but really useful in understanding GRT communities in practice: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTyID56SF6U

This article from First Light explores why domestic abuse is prevalent in GRT communities:

Gypsies and Travellers – First Light 

The Traveller Movement works to increase the awareness of GRT community needs in the justice system: 

https://travellermovement.org.uk/criminal-justice-policy  

Get in touch

If you have enjoyed this quick guide, wish to provide feedback or make a suggestion for a future topic of interest you can email the author directly using sally.gillies@trixonline.co.uk

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