Today Basildon Council announced that the Dale Farm traveller site near Crays Hill that has been at the centre of a 10 year legal battle and culminated in violent and destructive removal of its occupants is finally clear.
Dale Farm was the largest traveller site in the UK. There were 51 illegal plots on the site and all of these have now been fully removed. The caravans have been destroyed or removed and the hard-standings demolished.
Tony Ball, the council leader for Basildon who has been fighting the case for the council for the past 10 years has said that his focus is not on returning the site to a status that is in keeping with its green belt status. The council is also in the processe of attempting to recover some of the costs of the evictions and clearance which are thought to be in the region of £8 million.
85 Families made homeless
The news of the Dale Farm clearance has reached all corners of the world. Today Aljazeera published the story “From Israel to Essex: Travellers not welcome” which examines the lives of traditional nomadic communities and how they are still hounded by “state-led discrimination and violent attempts to abolish their way of life”.
All across the middle-east you newcomers to an area are greeted with the words “Ahlan wa sahlan wa marhaban” which means “Welcome to this flat piece of ground”. This saying comes from the days when many Arab communities were nomadic and would travel long distances in search of food and water.
It seems that the travelling community, often criticised for wanting the settle and hounded by others that do not wish to see them on the road sides, are facing the same persecution all over the world.
Is our treatment of the travelling community fair? Should all people in Britain be forced to live in approved housing or located on approved sites? At what point does a persons human right to be free of the constraints of society conflict with the desire to ensure that everyone in a society is treated fairly?
Maybe we, as a county and a nation, need to provide more suitable plots for travellers. There is a housing shortage at the moment with many people being unable to secure cheap or affordable housing anywhere at the moment. Travellers do not have the luxury of obtaining a mortgage and most do not have any significant savings available for a deposit on a property. If they did, they would be at the bottom of the housing ladder anyway. So why not give them the space that they need?
Surely it is cheaper for the government or local council to provide a plot of land than a house? Travellers take care of their own waste (although not always in a socially responsible way) and some generate their own electricity (although not in an efficient or green way). Maybe it is time for the council to build new sites for travellers with mains drainage, water and electricity.
UK travellers have lowest life expectancy and highest infant mortality rates
Few people reading this will really understand that the life of a traveller is hard. OK, many have nice caravans, but many do not. Access to clean water and sanitation is still a problem for many in the travelling community.
Glenys Parry and colleagues from the School of Health and Related Research at the University of Sheffield produced a report in 2006 that was published in the Journal of Epidemiol Community Health in 2007. The study, Health status of Gypsies and Travellers in England, found that Gypsies and travellers suffered worse health than any other part of society, faring much worse than socially deprived, excluded groups or any other ethnic minorities. Recently arrived refugees and illegal immigrants live a better life than most long-term travellers.
Middle England is the Deep South for Gypsies
In January 2011, Libby Brooks described the plight of many travellers as “Gypsies and Travellers have the poorest life chances of any group: infant mortality is highest, educational attainment lowest, and life expectancy 10 years below average” in the article This middle England village is the Gypsies’ deep south (The Guardian).
In a follow-up article Julie Bindel wrote in February 2011 about the poor maternity care that many travellers face, The big fat truth about Gypsy life.
“The women are three times more likely to miscarry or have a still-born child compared to the rest of the population, mainly, it is thought, as a result of reluctance to undergo routine gynaecological care, and infections linked to poor sanitation and lack of clean water. The rate of suicides among Traveller women is significantly higher than in the general population, and life expectancy is low for women and men, with one-third of Travellers dying before the age of 59.”
It is reports such as this that make a lot of people wonder why travellers are so reluctant to settle down, get a proper job and seek government approved housing. Domestic violence, poor education, exclusion and mistrust are rife in traveller communities.
Few women can read, many of the men cannot. School and education are something that many avoid out of pride or simply a lack of support from family. However, in that Guardian report one traveller explains why they want their sites so much. They are simply not used to the restrictions of houses, children are not happy and women become depressed due to isolation.
However, the same problems are faced by everyone in society, exclusion, loneliness and a lack of purpose leave many people suffering from depression in our society today. The travelling society may not be politically correct, well-educated, clean or healthy, but they have their family units, social cohesion and a sense of place in their society. Something that many of us house-dwellers are lacking.
Photo of Romany Caravan by David Wright