New government proposals giving police powers to arrest and seize the property of people on unauthorised caravan sites threaten to criminalise an ancient way of life, according to London Gypsies and Travellers.
This week Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that she was launching a consultation on new proposals which will make “trespassing while setting up an unauthorised encampment” a criminal offence. Announcing the move, she said: “The public want their communities protected and for the police to crack down on trespassers. Our proposals aim to ensure these encampments can be challenged and removed as quickly as possible.”
But London Gypsies and Travellers condemned her statement as divisive. “It further reinforces the marginalisation of Gypsies and Travellers and the negative stereotypes that have such a harmful effect on the community,” said Debby Kennett, LGT’s Chief Executive.
Local authorities have duties to facilitate the nomadic way of life but consistently fail to carry them out, points out London Gypsies and Travellers. Given the shortage of authorised pitches for caravans in London, many Travellers have no other option but to camp in unauthorised locations. Police and local authorities already have the powers they need to evict.
“Greater powers to evict are not the solution and will only cause greater hardship for families on the roadside – increasing insecurity, encouraging public prejudice, disrupting family life, threatening health and wellbeing and preventing access to education, work and services,” said Debby Kennett.
Gypsies and Travellers and organisations supporting the communities raised serious concerns about the negative impacts a further extension of police powers would bring when the government first announced a review of eviction laws last year. LGT expressed its hope that the review would give the government the opportunity to show leadership and address the true cause of unauthorised encampments: the shortage of authorised sites.
However, the latest announcement and its tone give little grounds for hope. “None of the important issues – such as realistic alternatives to eviction like negotiated stopping – are mentioned in the government’s statement. We have no confidence in the outcome of this consultation,” said Debby Kennett. “After the general election we need to see the new government taking seriously the evidence and views from Gypsies and Travellers and civil society groups that support the community.”