Travellers: beyond the stereotypes

According to the BBC, the documentary series My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is Channel 4's most popular programme since Big Brother in 2008, peaking at 7.4 million viewers.

Unsurprisingly, the show concentrates on stereotypes: horse fairs, lavish wedding dresses and bare-knuckle fighting. Despite the title, most people featured are Irish Travellers rather than Roma and the issues facing the community are barely mentioned.

The European Parliament Committee of Enquiry on Racism and Xenophobia in 2009 concluded that Travellers were the most discriminated against group in Ireland. A 2007 report found that 57% of Irish Travellers die before the age of 39 years, a third before the age of 25. 80% of Travellers die before the age of 65 and around 10% of Traveller children before their second birthday.

In Britain, casual prejudice against Travellers has been regularly voiced by local and national politicians, both Tory and Labour. The repeal of the (widely-ignored) part of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 which in theory required local authorities to provide sites for Travellers by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 has led to a situation where it is estimated that at least 3,500 Travellers have no access to sites and are forced to camp illegally.

As with other forms of discrimination, socialists should oppose anti-Traveller prejudice and argue for the provision of sufficient public sites and improved access to education and health services to allow them to follow the lifestyle of their choice.