Some facts about Gypsies and Travellers

History and Culture of Dorset Travelling People

Romany Gypsies
This is the largest group of travelling people in the UK. Originally thought to have originated from Egypt, they therefore became known as Gypsies. However, linguistic studies of English Romany in the 19th century suggested that their origins were from Northern India, as the language was mainly Sanskrit with words from other languages added as a result of contact with other cultures. There are still Roma tribes living in India who share the same linguistic and cultural roots.

Early records show that Romany Gypsies arrived in Britain
in the early 16th century. By the end of the century,
however, laws were being passed forbidding Gypsies to
enter the country as a Gypsy, and if Gypsies did not give up
their way of life they would be put to death. Despite this,
Romany Gypsies survived persecution and were used for
seasonal labour by the farming community. Their itinerant
lifestyle made them invaluable for this type of work
For Romany people, the family is very much their support
system. They observe strict hygiene laws known as
Mochadi, which consist of important principles about, for
example, hand washing prior to handling food or dishes,
after getting dressed in the morning and before going
to the kitchen. Latrines are kept at a distance from the
living area. Most Gypsies find modern housing difficult
as it breaks Mochadi, and a house can seem a dark and
depressing place because they are very much “out of
doors” people.

Irish Travellers, or Pavee
These are one of the oldest Travelling people of the
British Isles and some scholars believe them to be the
descendents of the original hunter gatherer people of
these islands. They speak two languages: Gammon, in the
south of Ireland, and Cant, spoken in the north and the
west of Ireland. Originally tinsmiths and peddlers, they
brought information from place to place, which was much
valued as before 1700 Dublin was the only Irish town to
have a newspaper. They share the same hygiene laws as
Romany, despite having little to do with each other with
intermarriage rare even to this day.

Some facts about Gypsies and
Travellers:

• It is difficult to count how many Gypsies and
Travellers there are in the UK because they move
so often, but it is thought that there are around
120,000.
• Romany Gypsies, Irish and Scottish Travellers are
legally recognised as ethnic minority groups.
• In terms of health and education, Gypsies and
Travellers are one of the most deprived groups in
Britain. 20% of Gypsy and Traveller mothers will
experience the death of a child (this figure is less
than 1% for the settled community), and Gypsies
and Travellers have the highest mortality rate – life
expectancy being 10 years lower than the national
average.
• It would take less than one square mile to
accommodate every unauthorised caravan in
England.
• It costs the taxpayer over £20,000,000 a year to
evict travelling people from one place to another,
which could be used to build many sites. One
South West authority saw their enforcement bills
reduced from £200,000 a year to £5,000 a year,
by providing a legal stopping place. Authorised
sites can make economic sense – by reducing
enforcement charges, and receiving rent and
council tax.
• ¾ of Gypsy and Traveller caravans in England are
on authorised, legal sites.
• Over 90% of all the local authorities in England
have Gypsies and Travellers living in them, or
travelling through them.
• Travellers like to provide their own power, and do
not rely on the national grid – their requirements
are low impact and eco-friendly.
• A New Traveller site in Dorset is being designed
which will include a living roof on the utility block
and will be incorporating eco-friendly building
methods.
• The average size of an unauthorised encampment
is 4 caravans. Large unauthorised sites are
uncommon.
• 90% of Gypsy and Traveller planning applications
are turned down on first request, compared with
10% of first planning applications from the settled
community.
• Not all Gypsies and Travellers travel. 2/3 of the
U.K.’s Gypsy and Traveller population live in
houses.
• There is no evidence that the crime rate for
Gypsies and Travellers is higher than for other
groups.
• Gypsies and Travellers start work younger than
settled communities and have a strong work ethic.
They are traditionally self employed and work in
trades that are mobile, such as building services.
Only a small number of Gypsies and Travellers
receive benefits.
• Over one quarter of Gypsies and Travellers are
homeless and don’t have a legal place to stop. Many
have to use stopping places that are dangerous,
unsuitable and squalid with no access to amenities

Legislation and Gypsy and
Travellers
In 1968 the Caravan Sites Act stipulated that local
councils had an obligation to provide sites for Travellers.
However, the sites that were provided were
often redundant waste sites or under flyovers, places
no one else would want to live. In 1994 the Criminal
Justice and Public Order Act abolished the obligation
for local councils to provide sites. Gypsies and Travellers
were advised to find their own suitable sites
and request planning permission. The reality was
that many families had to go into housing, as Gypsies
found it hard to overcome local opposition in order
to get planning permission granted.

More recently, the Human Rights Act of 1998 and
the Equality Act 2010 have given Gypsies and Travellers
greater protection against discrimination. Case
Law has established that Gypsies and Irish /Scottish
Travellers can constitute an ethnic group within the
definition of the race protected characteristic, and
many New Travellers can also be afforded protection
under the religion and belief characteristic introduced
in the new Equality Act 2010.

Nevertheless, many of the traditional stopping places
such as commons, old roads etc. are now being
sealed up, making it more difficult to live traditionally.
Families that chose to take housing have reported
discrimination from the settled population and many
have been diagnosed as clinically depressed. Many
young Gypsies living on estates have lost their cultural
roots and have ended up with a dysfunctional
family life.

Dorset County Council