Race Equality Action Plan: an anti-racist Wales, Community Engagement Exercise – A Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Response

The Romani Cultural and Arts Company releases the Race Equality Action Plan: an anti-racist Wales, Community Engagement Exercise – A Gypsy, Roma, Traveller Response. The report stresses the need for more consistent consultation with Romani and Traveller organisations in planning, drafting and finalising such equalities initiatives over the lifetime of the whole process, not just occasionally, as the input and impact of observations, comments and aspirations cannot be sufficiently included during the final stages. Policy has its own momentum, with changes being very hard to make once that momentum gathers pace through officers, working groups, fora, and ministerial consideration.

The report also points to the fact that the Romani and Traveller communities are concerned that the Welsh Ombudsman’s Office does not have sufficient independent authority and lacks legal tools to rectify issues, challenge actions by institutions and organisations, and enforce the results of findings against local authorities and national government. The fact that there is no direct appeal to the Ombudsman as such, without referral of complaints by local authority officers, is a particular concern for Gypsy, Traveller, Roma complainants. Most of the respondents in the survey that underlies the report’s data were also keen to see more and more accessible public information about the functions and powers of the Ombudsman’s office in Wales.

Finally, the inclusion of Gypsies, Roma, Travellers in the general term ‘BAME’ (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) people is very clearly not what the communities want; 66% of our respondents disagreed (38% “strongly disagreed”) with this. Most wanted to be called by their own names, i.e. Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, not to be subsumed under a generic heading that does not recognise their own cultural specificities, traditions and practices and assumes that “they’re all the same”. Interviewees felt passionately about this issue, “We are Gypsies, Welsh Gypsies and not no other and not Traveller. Romany Gypsies we are and that’s what I will always be ‘till I die.”; “Romany Gypsies should be as one and not with Roma or Irish Travellers because we are not the same.”

There is also a strong identification with the racism and prejudice that other minority ethnic communities experience in Welsh society; as one respondent put it, “Black people are treated the same way as us.”

Quote: “The PCSC Bill (Police Bill 2021), peoples’ personal prejudices, stereotypical thinking, and ignoring needs [of Gypsy, Roma, Traveller communities] are all serious obstacles to achieving an anti-racist Wales, for Romani and Traveller people, says a respondent from the social services sector in Wales. Another Traveller professional says: “A better understanding, contact [with[ and care of the Traveller, [Roma] and Gypsy communities” will help achieve the ideas and values that are represented in the Welsh government’s REAP: an anti-racist Wales initiative. “A lack of representation in leadership roles…” severely hampers achieving an anti-racist Wales, according to the director of a Romani and Traveller NGO, whilst accommodation (particularly poor and overcrowded sites for Travellers) and housing for Roma remain obstacles to inclusion and addressing disadvantage.

To achieve an anti-racist Wales that reflects all of the country’s minority ethnic communities, including Gypsies, Roma, Travellers will require a great deal more than initiatives, policies and promises from Senedd Members. “You cannot legislate against what is in people’s heads”, says Dr Adrian Marsh, the project’s lead consultant, “It is a very long, narrow and thorny road to the removal of racism towards Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people from the majority population, even from other minority ethnic communities. The report from the RCAC reflects the deep and abiding concerns that Romani and Traveller people have about this progressive and positive proposal, given the short timetable for achieving the ambitious objectives.”