Here is some useful information you can use when writing leaflets, letters to newspapers or politicians or organising a local event.
– Up to 400 people (70-80 families) are facing the threat of eviction from their homes. This will be the largest eviction of Gypsies and Travellers ever undertaken in the UK. It is entirely unnecessary.
– Basildon Council and the Dale Farm residents were previously in talks, overseen by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), to find a sustainable solution to their housing needs. EHRC reported that the residents were open and willing to engage in the process. Richard Sheridan, Chair of the Gypsy Council, says that those residents affected are willing to move elsewhere if the Council will only find suitable land for them. Potential sources of land have indeed been identified, both during and since the talks took place.
– The cost of eviction may be anywhere between £8m and £18m – at a time when Basildon Council is facing cuts that will lead to the loss of around 100 jobs and impact on things like services for disabled people and repairs to community centres. The eviction is a gross misuse of public funds- and it is entirely unnecessary. Providing alternative sites for the residents to live on would likely cost a fraction of this sum- several sites have already been identified and there is funding available for the purchase of the land. Basildon Council simply needs to approve planning permission.
– Up to 150 children plus a number of vulnerable adults will be affected by the eviction. Basildon Council has a statutory duty to safeguard their well-being but there is little indication that they take this duty seriously. The Deputy Children’s Commissioner recently wrote that the Council has “no plan proposed for ensuring that the health, welfare, education, housing and other needs of the children involved will be protected.”
– The Deputy Commissioner also expressed concern at the methods used by the Council’s appointed bailiffs, Constant & Co., when evicting Travellers from the neighbouring site of Hovefields Drive last year. Constant & Co have repeatedly been accused of violence, destruction of property and serious breaches of health and safety law when evicting Gypsies and Travellers. In 2008 a High Court judge said it was inappropriate for Basildon Council to continue to employ this company.
– If families at Dale Farm are made homeless they will probably have no choice but to camp without permission elsewhere in the locality or further afield. They face the distressing prospect of being repeatedly moved on by the police – this is the reality of life for homeless Travellers, with potentially devastating effects on health, security, income and general well-being. It is exactly what happened to the families evicted from Hovefields Drive last year.
– The flip side of the coin is that ad hoc encampments mean frequent nuisance and ongoing expense for the settled communities affected. Basildon Council’s NIMBY policy will at best shift the evicted families outside its jurisdiction, making them someone else’s problem – but it probably won’t even achieve this much. Many families will surely seek to stay within reach of their existing work, schools, doctors, etc. in the locality.
– 20% of those Gypsies and Travellers in the East of England who live in caravans are already homeless. Local authorities should be finding permanent pitches for these people, not adding to their number. The EHCR has said that, at the current rate of provision, it will take English local authorities 16-27 years to find the sites that are needed now.
– The problem of “illegal” Gypsy and Traveller sites has historically been created because local authorities have neither provided adequate sites themselves nor granted planning permission when Travellers wished to set up home on their own land (as at Dale Farm). All too often they have just tried to get rid of Gypsies and Travellers, creating a cycle of confrontation.
– All the Dale Farm residents ask is the freedom to follow their traditional way of life. The courts have established that the EU Convention on Human Rights places a duty on public authorities “to act so as to facilitate the Gypsy way of life”. This is why Dale Farm has attracted so much international attention. Last year the UK government was urged to call a halt to the eviction by both the Chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. Recently Dale Farm was visited by a delegate from the Council of Europe to monitor the situation. Now the EU has told its member states to adopt strategies to combat the social exclusion of Gypsies and Travellers – it is becoming harder and harder to justify a mass eviction that flies in the face of this aim.
– It’s about time our politicians, local and national, stopped pandering to racist bigotry.