Socialist Worker

Travellers have been made objects of hatred

Rita Jones, a Traveller from Norfolk, spoke to Socialist Worker about the scapegoating and discrimination faced by her family

Issue No. 1945

Travellers, like these in Bow, east London, just want to be treated with respect (Pic: Jess Hurd/http://www.reportdigital.co.uk

Travellers, like these in Bow, east London, just want to be treated with respect (Pic: Jess Hurd/www.reportdigital.co.uk)


The Tory leader, Michael Howard, talks about the Holocaust and how he’s Jewish, but he’s a very racist man. He’ll never be able to tell Gypsies that he’s not. He’s the man who said in 1993 to stop building council sites, and that Travellers should go and buy their own land and live on it. But now he’s twisting it all.

They say the same about foreigners: “We’ll get rid of them and we’ll have a perfect world.”

I saw these old biddies on TV. This man said, “I’m not voting Labour, because there’s too many foreigners.” And I thought, oh god, those poor foreigners are getting nearly as much stick as us.

I live in Norfolk. Even though I own this house, we get trouble from the racists. I have a large family, nine boys and three girls — some of them are grown up. But they didn’t want Gypsy children around.

People were alright when we first moved in. Then the talk goes round that we’re Gypsies. I don’t bother a soul round here, but it’s only the girl next door — she’s a single parent — who talks to us. The others treat us like aliens.

Last year we had our vans burned out. We’re totally isolated. We don’t get any support. We didn’t get any help from the police. They said, “There’s no forensics, the rain has washed it all away.”

When we were living in wagons on the commons we had a bullet come through a windscreen. We said we’d go and sort it out according to the law. But we went to the police station, and they said, “Who’ve you been upsetting on the common?” The cartridge case was still there.

I’ve got a daughter who is four months pregnant and she’s living with me because just after Christmas she was asleep in her van and it was set on fire.

She’d have been dead if it wasn’t for my son-in-law. If it wasn’t for the windscreen popping in the fire — it went off like a gunshot — and waking him, they’d have lost their lives. We’ve had death letters, too.

My daughter is trying to fight for planning permission, on her own land. But her solicitor has already told her that she’s not going to get it and she’ll be kicked out within 12 months.

The nearest house to her is two miles away. She’s only got two girls, aged five and two. She’s got a nice gate and flowerpots outside. The kids get singled out by the teachers. I’ve got a boy of 11 who can’t read or write, but he’s been to school every day.

All my sons can draw well. At the education authority, they said, “How are your children getting on?” I said, “Their drawing’s good, but their reading and writing is terrible.”

They get stuck in a corner and told, “Draw your family, draw your house.” They don’t do that with the other children.

They wanted to serve Asbos on the children for playing in the town, they wanted to keep them in after four or five o’clock. None of my children has an Asbo but they’re always being threatened.

I’ve had the police round when my children have been going to the park, because a farmer said my daughter was looking at his apple tree.

I daren’t let the children out to go up the town — I have to tell them to be in by six or seven o’clock, and these are boys of 14 and 15 years old. They get stopped and searched by the police. I’m thinking of filing a complaint for harassment.

I think that’s what the government and politicians are up to. They want it to be like the war, when Gypsies were murdered in the concentration camps.

When my children go to school the other children talk about the things in the papers about Gypsies, saying, “You were in the papers the other day.” But it isn’t them in the paper, it’s other Gypsies. I don’t like it.

A lot of it is to do with the Tory leader, Michael Howard, and with who’s going to win the election.

I also blame the Gypsy and Traveller community itself. If it was black people, they’d stick together. They’ve had the brains to get together to protest for their rights.

I’ve told people we should get all the Gypsies and Travellers together and go up to Downing Street. That would be the way to get the government to help the Gypsies.


Travellers: the facts

  • There are approximately 120,000 Gypsies and Travellers in Britain, but the number of caravans is far fewer.
  • Last year the government counted 15,000 caravans, mostly on council run or legal private sites. About a quarter were on unauthorised sites or roadside verges.
  • There is a shortage of sites for Gypsies and Travellers. The office of the deputy prime minister has estimated that there is a shortfall of 4,500 pitches.
  • The 1994 Criminal Justice Act, introduced by Michael Howard when he was home secretary, removed the duty on local authorities to provide official sites, contributing to the shortage.
  • Gypsies and Travellers have tried to deal with the shortage of sites by buying their own land. But they face huge obstacles getting planning permission to create pitches.
  • More than 90 percent of their planning applications are refused and two thirds of appeals are turned down.
  • Last year Gypsy groups and settled villagers signed a joint statement calling for the duty on councils to find sites to be reintroduced.


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Features
Sat 2 Apr 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1945
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