“Why can’t I travel, just like my grandparents and their parents did?” asks Ninah Smith, a traveller from Norwich. “I’m entitled to follow my tradition and lifestyle.”
Travellers have faced persecution from the authorities and racism in the media for many years. Now the right wing tabloids have launched a new hate campaign in response to a minor consession to be introduced by the government.
The housing bill will require councils to audit traveller accommodation needs and provide sites on that basis.
The Sun responded by talking of a “war on gipsy free for all”. They used the headline “Stamp On Camps” and published a number people could use to phone in with negative “stories”.
Local papers have also launched attacks. Rita Jones, a traveller living in Diss, Norfolk, is familiar with the lies in the press. She has been buying the local papers for 15 years and says, “They have never written anything good about travellers — and travellers are in there most weeks.”
The changes in housing law will reverse some of the most draconian measures in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act. This act took away local councils’ responsibility to provide sites for travellers. Since then the Traveller Law Reform Group has shown that there are only enough legal stopping places for two thirds of travellers.
This means that thousands of others face the constant threat of eviction. When travellers try to buy land, over 90 percent of their planning applications are turned down — compared with 20 percent of applications from the settled community.
But most travellers don’t see extra council provision as a solution. Ninah Smith says, “Councils just want to put us out of sight, on shitty sites next to dumps or main roads, to satisfy their statistics.
“What about the kids living there? We need enough stopping places to keep travelling like my family have been for generations.”