There are at least 60,000 members of the UK’s nomadic community, known as Romany, Irish or New Age Travellers and Gypsies. Unfortunately, they suffer the worst life outcomes of any of our minority groups in terms of health issues, child mortality, life expectancy, educational attainment and criminal activity. Their children are also more likely to be removed into care by social workers.
The conditions that suited their way of life very well when they first arrived in the 16th century from India, Europe and Ireland are hard to find today. For centuries, farmers were accustomed to employing them as seasonal labour and in the winter there was enough spare land for their encampments to hunker down temporarily.
Modern-day travellers likewise offer ad hoc trades and crafts but face hostility and police visits when they illegally set up camp in parks, for instance, so local councils aim to provide areas for them to stop off which have several ‘pitches’, i.e. space for a set number of mobile homes, caravans and vehicles. These sites charge for use of electricity, water, amenity blocks and refuse collection. Travellers may choose to stay long-term if a family member is old, ill or studying for school exams.
(Image of illegal encampment in Hertfordshire: Peter O’Connor aka anemoneprojectors at Flickr.com / CC BY-SA 2.0)