Traveller camaign group calls for evictions of unauthorised camps to stop during Covid-19 restrictions

Half a dozen traveller caravans were pitched on unauthorised sites in Northampton shortly before lockdown, new figures show.

By Patrick Jack
Saturday, 27th June 2020, 4:50 pm
Updated Saturday, 27th June 2020, 4:52 pm
Library picture
Library picture

But members of the traveller community have called for all evictions to be stopped nationwide while the coronavirus pandemic continues, amid concerns the group are at increased risk from the disease.

The latest Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government snapshot shows six traveller caravans were on sites without planning permission in Northampton in January.

All of these were on sites classed as “not tolerated”, meaning local authorities have made efforts to move them on.

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This could include issuing a planning enforcement notice or obtaining an injunction from a court to ban them from the site.

However, with a total of 92 caravans in Northampton in January, it means the majority were on authorised sites.

This was an increase on the 84 caravans recorded at the last count in July 2019.

Across England, 22,700 traveller caravans were recorded in January – with almost 90 per cent on authorised sites.

However, the number of families living by the roadside or on other unauthorised sites this summer will not be known, as the usual July count has been suspended because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Travellers’ Times, a national project which seeks to challenge discrimination, is urging the Government and local authorities to provide everyone in unauthorised encampments with water and sanitation facilities during the crisis.

It wants all evictions of these sites to be stopped and for local authorities to work with Travellers to agree on a temporary period for them to remain.

A spokeswoman said: “Many families are worried about how they can protect themselves and others and follow the public health guidance.

“It’s unacceptable that they are excluded from some local authorities’ planning and delivery of support for vulnerable groups.”

A report from human rights group Doctors of the World found UK Travellers, like all “excluded people”, are at greater risk of being exposed to the coronavirus and are struggling to access healthcare services.

It noted that Traveller workers have been heavily impacted by job losses, while children are missing out on education due to “digital exclusion”.

The Traveller Movement charity said it is hard to estimate the impact of the coronavirus on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, but that existing health disparities will be exacerbated.

Chelsea McDonagh, the group’s education policy and campaigns officer, said GRT communities like hers have been forgotten about.

She said: “Those who are still roadside are not protected by the weak government guidance and as a result are still being moved on, whilst access to education is not happening for all GRT children.

“This pandemic has shown, once again, that GRT communities are not a priority for the Government and it is much easier to forget about them rather than meet their needs.”

A government spokeswoman said councils are best placed to determine how to support individuals in their own communities and when to use their powers to remove unauthorised encampments.

She added: “Councils are also best placed to assess what needs to be done to ensure Gypsy and Traveller communities are protected and supported through the pandemic.

“The vital work councils are doing, across their communities, is backed by £3.2 billion of government funding.”