Academic journal article Romani Studies

Nomadism and the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act: Constraining Gypsy and Traveller Mobilities in Britain

Academic journal article Romani Studies

Nomadism and the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act: Constraining Gypsy and Traveller Mobilities in Britain

Article excerpt

Since the sixteenth century the state has restricted the mobilities of Gypsies and Travellers in Britain. As studies have repeatedly demonstrated, nomadic Gypsies and Travellers experience high levels of exclusion. In 1994 a duty to provide caravan sites was repealed and greater restrictions on nomadism were introduced. Motivation for restrictive state policy stems from economic factors but also involves processes of othering. The rise of New Labour in the mid-1990s leftmany to wonder whether constraints on the travelling way of life would continue or if new, more tolerant, policy initiatives would emerge. This article considers the impacts of policy introduced by the New Labour Government on nomadic Gypsies and Travellers and the rationale behind these policy initiatives. The 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act, the main New Labour policy that affects nomadic Gypsies and Travellers, promoted new eviction powers which campaigners have argued could lead to a greater cycle of eviction. The article draws from local case-study sites where attempts have been made to develop transit sites and the role of political opposition, the media, and public opinion in thwarting these proposals.

Keywords: Gypsies and Travellers, nomadism, 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act, Britain, transit sites, New Labour

Introduction

We cannot toughen up the law to move Travellers on if there is nowhere for them to go. Recently, in the neighbourhood of Wortley in my constituency, twelve caravans were parked on the Oldfield Road football pitches, which were moved off. They moved to Farnley Park over the Easter weekend, making local football and cricket impossible. They were evicted and moved down to Hunslet, where they were evicted again and moved to another public park, Western Flats, in Wortley. They have been driven offthe Western Flats and are now at Wortley recreational ground. They have received a notice to move on Friday. Those 12 caravans belong to one family, who have lived in Leeds for generations. The family group includes an elderly man with Alzheimer's, a young child with pneumonia, a two-month-old baby who has never received appropriate medical attention because of the constant movement of the family, and a mother who recently collapsed and was in hospital for two days. Some of the children go to local schools in my constituency and are taken there every day by the Travellers education support unit. Since January, the caravans have been moved 50 times, so the children do not know where they are going home to after school. That is quite apart from the fact that the caravans are on sites without water or toilets, and are thus insanitary and quite inappropriate for families. The endless round of court notices and eviction enforcements mean that families are pushed from pillar to post. Everybody, from settled neighbours to Travellers and their families becomes totally exasperated, and council officials and the local police are caught in the middle of many angry conflicts. The cause of the problem is the shortage of sites or pitches on which the caravans can stop. (Hansard 2004)

The opening quotation, by former MP John Battle, catalogues the misery suffered by Gypsies and Travellers in Britain that is caused by eviction, as well as the futility of greater enforcement if there are no available caravan sites to go to. It also reveals the dominance of sedentarism, the 'system of ideas and practices which serves to normalise and reproduce sedentary modes of existence and pathologies and repress nomadic modes of existence' (McVeigh 1997: 9). Different policies and laws illustrate the spatial strategies enforced against Gypsies and Travellers to control and constrain their mobility and confine and exclude them (Sibley 1981, 2003; Bancroft2005). The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which removed the duty placed on local authorities to provide caravan sites, essentially criminalised nomadism. Due to the shortage of over 5,000 pitches (Niner 2002; Brown and Niner 2009), Gypsies and Travellers found themselves with no legal place to put their mobile homes and trailers. …

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