Everyone wants to be counted. It is important for one’s sense of self to be recognised in all aspects of one’s identity. But, if identifying yourself could lead to discrimination and persecution it would be completely understandable to not want to be counted and possibly singled out.
This is especially the case for people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GTR) populations who have faced ill-treatment for hundreds of years. For Jenni Berlin, partnerships and community development manager of the national charity, The Traveller Movement, it is very important that Gypsy, Roma and Traveller populations be counted demographically. This is so that disparities between these communities and the general population can be formally identified and officially rectified. Berlin quoted a number of studies that identified some of these disparities.
Almost one third of GRT reported experiencing discrimination within the healthcare system. GRT people live on average 10 to 12 years less than the general population and also experience high infant and maternal mortality rates. Gypsies and Travellers suffer from higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and the suicide rate in the Traveller community is six times higher than in the general population.
Berlin said: “We know from small studies and academic studies and from other organisations that the life expectancy is lower but since they are not in the NHS data dictionary we can’t prove it, so we can’t make the government responsible.”
If her organisation, which is trying to make things better for GRT communities, can’t challenge the government, the government doesn’t have to do anything about it, she said.
The Traveller Movement is working to get Gypsy, Roma and Traveller included as designations on ethnic monitoring forms so that inequalities can be proven with more certainty. However, there is another challenge of getting people from GRT communities to identify themselves on these forms. Berlin said that there are between 300,000 and one million people from GRT communities in the UK but only 56,000 identified as such on the census eight years ago. Fear of discrimination is a major inhibiting factor. Berlin said: “My colleagues who are Irish Travellers don’t tick the box for their kids in school because they say ‘why should I put them through what I went through?’”
She said that 70% of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers reported being discriminated against in the education system and 30% reported the same in healthcare. She said they are also cautious of the police as they fear being treated as perpetrators and not as victims. Berlin also said that social services are also viewed with scepticism by GRT communities because “back in the day, Gypsy kids were taken from their parents and given to settled people.”
To turn this situation around and engender more trust from GRT communities towards authorities and those that would collect data, several things need to happen, according to Berlin. One is the recognition and rectification of harmful behaviour and hate speech by organisations. Berlin said that when The Traveller Movement has called out hate speech online posted by the official social media account of a police force, she and her colleagues are able to get it taken down and a private apology. She would like in future instances for there to be a public apology as well. “There is no trust and they are not doing enough to say ‘we are here for you’,” she said.
"You cannot make change until you can prove the need."
Secondly, support from other community organisations would be welcomed, said Berlin, while pointing out that the HEAR Network is brilliant with showing the Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities are part of society. There needs to be more implementation of schemes by public services that show they are there to help. Berlin would also like to see more detailed designations on ethnic monitoring forms. On the census there are only the designations of Gypsy or Irish Traveller. Those who identify as Roma would have to tick the ‘White Other’ box.
“Right now Czech Roma and Finnish Roma would have to tick the same box but they are as different as Czech people and Finnish people. Also you can imagine that the issues affecting English Gypsies are completely different than the Roma who migrated much later and have issues more similar to other migrants.” This is being addressed right now, according to Berlin, in time for the census in two years’ time.
Berlin summed up her point by quoting a witness to a Women’s and Equalities Committee enquiry. That person said: "On a big national, even a county council level, you cannot commission for what you do not know. You cannot make change until you can prove the need."