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Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities


The umbrella term Gypsies and Travellers or Gypsy, Roma and Travellers consists of a number of different ethnic communities.

Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are legally recognised as ethnic groups and protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Gypsy, Roma and Travellers share some cultural values such as nomadism, however they remain distinct ethnic groups and each group has their own culture and traditions. For Gypsies and Travellers, nomadism is not purely about moving from place to place but a way of looking at life and the world.

Different Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnic communities

Irish Travellers are recognised as a distinct ethnic group and are part of the indigenous traditional nomadic populations that have been recorded in the British Isles since the eleventh century. They had their own distinct language, remnants of which are still used.

  • English Gypsies are also recognised as a distinct ethnic group and are descended from nomadic tribes originating in north western India, who travelled through Europe and north Africa, arriving in Britain in the 14th century. They also had a distinct language more common in continental Europe, some words still used here.
  • Roma share the ethnicity of English Gypsies but have more recently arrived in this country from Eastern Europe. They speak one of the Romany languages as their mother tongue and the language of the country of their nationality. Most have been settled in houses for generations.
  • New travellers are a more varied group with no common ethnicity. As their name suggests they have more recently taken up a nomadic lifestyle, though some are already into 3rd generations. They include those who have chosen it for ideological reasons of sustainability; those who have found it a solution to homelessness; and those who live on the waterways.

Gypsy, Roma and Travellers in Hackney

  • According to the City and Hackney Health and Wellbeing Profile, there are around 600-800 Gypsies and Travellers living in Hackney. The Hackney Traveller Education Service estimates there are around 300 Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children living in Hackney.
  • There are currently five local authority Traveller Sites in Hackney with a total of twenty-seven pitches. The Traveller sites are managed by Hackney Homes. Approximately a hundred and fifteen adults and children live on these sites. 
  • It is difficult to accurately assess the number of Gypsies and Travellers living in London. The London Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessment gave a headline figure of 13,537, however the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit believe there is a 20% undercount and 17,000 could be a more realistic estimate.
  • The majority of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers live in 'bricks and mortar', i.e. social and private rented housing, throughout the borough. This is not by choice.
  • There are records of Gypsies and Travellers in London dating back to the 17th century and one of the traditional stopping places was Hackney Marshes. They came to London for the same reason as settled people, which is to look for work. Gypsies and Travellers have taken on a wide range of casual contracted work such as construction, agricultural work, metal and other recycling and working on market stalls.
  • The Roma population have arrived in the past two decades from Eastern Europe sometimes escaping persecution and sometimes for economic reason.

Examples of discrimination and disadvantage

The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population has a long history of social exclusion, marginalisation and discrimination which can be traced back to the sixteenth century. Despite today's legal protection under equality legislation, Gypsies and Travellers continue to experience overt discrimination and are one of the most socially excluded groups in the country.

The following examples from an Equality and Human Rights Commission report in 2009 provide an illustration:

  • Life expectancy for Gypsy and Traveller men and women is 10 years lower than the national average.
  • Gypsy and Traveller mothers are 20 times more likely than the rest of the population to have experienced the death of a child.
  • In 2003, less than a quarter of Gypsy and Traveller children obtained five GCSEs and A*-C grades, compared to a national average of over half.
  • In 2004 the Commission for Racial Equality conclude that discrimination against Travellers was the last "respectable" form of racism. 
  • It is estimated between 200,000 to 600,000 Gypsies, including Roma, died during the Holocaust. 

The nomadic culture means their traditional accommodation is caravans and the provision of caravan sites and pitches are needed to support this way of life. The national reduction in the number of traditional stopping places and authorised sites across the country means that it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a travelling lifestyle and Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have to live in "bricks and mortar" accommodation. The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities often associate bricks and mortar accommodation with increased isolation and loss of cultural identity. 

Further information and support

  • Hackney Homes' Traveller Service manage the Traveller Sites in Hackney and provide support for Gypsy and Traveller families. Contact Angie Emmerson for further information about Gypsy, Roma and Travellers in Hackney.
  • Hackney Learning Trust's Traveller Education Service provides educational support for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and their families living in or visiting Hackney.
  • London Gypsy Traveller Unit, based in Hackney, provides services to support Travellers and Gypsies living in London and campaigns to challenge discrimination and improve the quality of life of Gypsies and Travellers.
  • Traveller Voices was published by NHS City and Hackney (2010) and gives a comprehensive account of the Gypsy and Travellers communities' culture, identify, social exclusion and issues they face today.
  • Gypsies and Travellers, simple solutions for working together, published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
  • Working with Gypsy and Traveller children and young people, published by Save the Children.

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Page updated: 26 Mar 2014 

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