Do we need a re-think about how we strike a balance between Gypsies and Travellers living their traditional lifestyle, without the settled communities (the vast majority of us) having to cope with illegal campsites?
Gypsies and Travellers have pursued their non-settled way of life in this country for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. While it may often seem out of place in our modern society it is undoubtedly a very traditional way of life. But the friction between settled and itinerant isn’t a new issue.
In 1530 the passing of the Egyptians Act aimed at ridding the country of all Egyptians or Gypsies, by banning immigration and ‘voluntarily’ requiring Gypsies to leave the country within sixteen days. The punishment for those who did not conform was the confiscation of their goods and property and the threat of imprisonment and deportation.
This law was further amended in 1554 when the carrot and very big stick approach was taken. If Gypsies abandoned their ‘naughty, idle and ungodly life and company’ and adopted a sedentary way of life with a settled occupation, they would not be punished. But the punishment for failing to settle down was extended to include execution for those not complying.
Many Gypsies were executed by the state up right up until the 1660s and although the state executions stopped in the latter half of the seventeenth century the punitive and restrictive laws continued.
It seems that Gypsies were tolerated when they were useful as farm labour, entertainers or blacksmiths, and were made to move on once they’d outlived that use. Gypsies survived thus on the margins of society until the outbreak of World War II. The outbreak of war and subsequent conscription, meant that Gypsies became a useful source of labour for the war effort.
The darker side of those war years is that along with Jewish people, gay people, trade unionists and disabled people, Gypsies were targetted victims of the Nazi regime.
I have a keen interest in this issue due to my own families Romany gypsy roots. My Nana was brought up in a Romany Community in a horse pulled Caravan and despite what people may think about Gypsies – many of my own morals have been from her influence, including treating others how you want to be treated, respect for your elders and basic good manners.
Many used to buy land and pitch on their own land years ago but they still faced persecution when pitching, as land got more expensive that option became less viable.
It’s unfortunate that the bad in the community are always remembered over the good, which leads to many Gypsies and Travellers deciding to settle down in houses and moving away from the traditional ways of their families.
I have often wondered about how this way of life can exist in modern day Britain. The more I think about it, the more I think I might have an answer.
If a serious commitment were to be set in law, drawing up new legislation for ALL local councils to offer short term stop off sites in various locations within their jurisdiction and that these sites may consist of parking for cars and caravans, a place for waste disposal and cleaning facilities, this could offer a solid way forward.
This of course will lead to many other questions and here are a few I think might come up.
Who will pay for it? For me this is simple – each council would have a permit that can be bought online (very few don’t have a smartphone these days). The price of the permits should cover the costs related to the sites – not make a profit.
Where would the sites be? This of course would be a tough call, but it must be done in consultation with local residents and with the gypsy and traveller communities also. The consultation process should have an emphasis on bringing the communities together. It’s important that everyone’s voice is heard to make it work.
Won’t Gypsies and Travellers just pitch elsewhere to avoid paying? I suspect the good in the community will be more than happy to pay their way, but rightly so – some won’t care. To combat this I feel that New Legislation would be needed to make Trespass a criminal offence, but only once these sites are in place.
I am sure that this idea is probably too simple and there is much more to do on it, but it has to be a basis to work around surely? There must be an answer that allows everyone to live their lives in cohesion.
What do you think?
This post was written by Wayne Dixon
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