Labour MP Laura Pidcock has slammed parliament for its inherent racism in a debate over Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. But unfortunately, only a handful of MPs showed up to hear her much-needed words.
MPs were supposed to be discussing the planning regulations relating to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller sites. But the debate did not get off to a good start. As Pidcock pointed out [00:06], it was framed inappropriately to begin with:
When I saw we were having a general debate on Gypsies and Travellers, I thought I must be missing some substantive motion… that would narrow this down somewhat, that would allow us to have a debate about a specific point rather than a general debate about entire communities.
And as she stated [00:30], the issue went deeper than not having a substantial point:
In the Minister’s statement, there was positioning of Gypsies and Travellers and local communities. And they are one and the same thing because Gypsies and Travellers are part of local communities… There should not be an othering of those communities… Imagine if there were a general debate on black people, for example, and local communities. You would see how nonsensical that would sound to the outside observer.
Pidcock also gave examples [1:03] of the racism that exists towards Gypsies, Roma and Travellers:
Tired and powerful stereotypes about those communities still exist; that they’ll put a curse on you, that they do not pay their taxes… That there is more violence in those communities, that they are dirty, unruly, strange for wanting to be nomadic. And we need to challenge this persistent… argument… that there are some legitimate Travellers and non-legitimate Travellers.
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This discrimination was echoed in a report by The Traveller Movement in September 2017. It found [pdf] that:
- 91% experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity.
- 70% experienced discrimination in some aspect of education.
- 49% experienced discrimination in some aspect of employment.
- 30% experienced discrimination in relation to accessing health care.
- 55% had been refused services because of their ethnicity.
- 77% experienced hate speech or a hate crime.
- 76% had hidden their ethnicity to avoid discrimination or prejudice.
- 77% had not sought legal help after experiencing discrimination.
These findings are also backed up by a 2017 YouGov poll. It found that only four out of 10 people were happy with their children going to the home of a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller for a “playdate”. And one in four people said they’d be “unhappy with a close relative having a long-term relationship with a Gypsy/Traveller”.
Not much hope
But Pidcock doesn’t place much hope in parliament helping with the solution to this problem. She stated [2:30] that there is a fundamental problem in the basis of much of the legislation around Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities:
There’s often a judgemental snobbery over Gypsy and Traveller communities and traditions which means… legislation starts with the presumption that a settled life in bricks and mortar is culturally superior.
In essence, if a Gypsy or Traveller stops travelling permanently, even for education or ill health, they will cease to be a Gypsy or Traveller. In my eyes, this is cultural sanitation and real arrogance on behalf of the government. Because being a Gypsy or Traveller… is much more than moving from one place to another. It is part of a person’s history, their ancestry, part of the fabric of their existence. And the idea that… the government… could supersede the community’s self definition with their own definition is absurd.
If a Scottish person no longer lives in Scotland, would that make them not be Scottish anymore? No. Because nationality and cultural identity is about much more… than where somebody arises.
“Nowhere to hide”
Launching her government’s ‘race audit’, Theresa May claimed that there will be “nowhere to hide” for public services that act in a discriminatory manner.
But it appears there is somewhere for MPs to hide when it comes to discussing Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights. Pidcock spoke passionately and made important points about the racism and discrimination people in these communities face. It’s just a shame that no more than a handful of MPs turned up to listen.
You can watch Pidcock’s speech in full here:
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