Response to the Welsh Government’s “Homes for Wales” – a white paper for better lives and communities
Save the Children welcomes the Welsh Government’s Homes for Wales White Paper, as it promotes equality of opportunity for all and seeks to ensure that children have a good standard of living to allow them to fulfil their potential. We are particularly pleased to note the proposed introduction of a duty on local authorities to provide Gypsy and Traveller sites where there is need (henceforth referred to as ‘the duty’). Save the Children has worked with these communities in Wales since the 1970s and the importance of access to Gypsy and Traveller sites has always been of paramount importance. Through good quality sites, children and young people are better able to access education, healthcare, youth and community facilities, and become more integrated into society, which will benefit everyone in Wales.
In the process of writing this consultation response, we spoke to key organisations and individuals working with these communities and spoke directly to 47 community members. Their comments and thoughts are included throughout this submission and as Appendix 1.
Through our Travelling Ahead project, we often talk to children and families who have been made homeless by the lack of Gypsy and Traveller sites in Wales. Ensuring that local authorities are obligated to provide sites for their Gypsy and Traveller residents will go some way towards this legislation’s stated aims of “[preventing] homelessness from happening in the first place” and “[ending] family homelessness by 2019,” amongst these communities.
Para 17(ii), referring to the proposed introduction of a statutory duty to provide sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities, is extremely welcome and necessary. Since 1994, Save the Children and other organisations have campaigned with, and on behalf of, Gypsies and Travellers to have this duty re-introduced (it was repealed by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994).
During our consultation sessions in preparation for writing this submission, 100% of Gypsies and Travellers thought that this duty needs to be introduced.
However, some respondents expressed concerns over the wording, “where there is evidence of a clear need for new sites.” These families asked how the Welsh Government will check that local authorities are producing robust monitoring procedures to capture this evidence. Furthermore, some respondents worried that even if this evidence was compiled, local authorities would simply fail to find adequate and available land for Gypsy and Traveller sites.
- Require that local authorities must complete Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments, under Housing Act 2004 s225, in a periodic manner.
- Scrutinise the robustness of these assessments by comparing conclusions against the levels of illegal encampments, Gypsy and Traveller school roll figures, and through discussions with local Gypsy and Traveller advocacy groups.
- If evidence of need can be demonstrated, prevent the adoption of local authority Local Development Plans (LDPs) without identification of Gypsy and Traveller site accommodation for 5-10 years’ worth of population growth.
Many respondents expressed their doubts that the reinstatement of ‘the duty’ on its own will actually lead to an improvement in the provision of Gypsy and Traveller sites in Wales, though they all agreed that the reintroduction was necessary if more sites were to be built. As stated in the consultation response from the Community Law Partnership, the existence of a similar duty between 1968-1994 did lead to 350 new sites across the UK that probably wouldn’t otherwise exist. However, during that period and since, demand has outstripped supply. There are already hundreds of homeless Gypsy and Traveller families in Wales, with a projected population growth of around 4% per annum. Therefore, without swift action to address this shortfall, the situation will continue to deteriorate.
Some of the Gypsies and Travellers we consulted asked why the White Paper does not consider consequences for local authorities who fail to make adequate provision for some of their most vulnerable and socially excluded citizens. Opinion was split between whether local authorities who fail to provide the necessary sites should be taken to court or have their decisions overturned by central government. It may be possible that court proceedings would be initiated under Equalities legislation or that the National Planning Inspectorate be given the power to overrule planning permission refusals in local authorities where evidenced need has not been met.
Save the Children believes that the re-introduction of ‘the duty’ is crucial for the cohesion of Welsh communities. However, it is just as important that the Welsh Government does all it can to ensure that local authorities provide the necessary increase in sites. The Caravan Sites Act 1968 previously introduced this duty, before it was repealed in 1994, but it took many years of local authority inaction before sites began to be built. Without appropriate punitive measures against local authorities that fail to provide sites, we fear that this may happen again. The Welsh Government must establish a mechanism for the enforcement of ‘the duty,’ if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and prevent the current stalemate around Gypsy and Traveller site provision within the LDP process.
Save the Children is aware of several current cases where families are forced into a cycle of evictions due to the failure of local authorities to provide necessary sites. Gypsy and Traveller accommodation needs assessments across Wales have identified pitch shortfalls, yet LDPs fail to find the necessary land for site development. In North Wales, the accommodation needs assessment has yet not been adopted despite being completed in 2011. In other counties, families have been evicted from entire areas to prevent future illegal encampments, despite their children being enrolled in local schools and GPs. Local residents’ ‘Action Groups’ are regularly set up and championed by local authority Councillors to oppose suggested Gypsy or Traveller sites. It is against this backdrop that ‘the duty’ will be introduced. Without enforcement of ‘the duty’, it is likely that local authorities will continue this impasse.
- Establish a procedure to ensure that family homelessness can be prevented amongst Gypsies and Travellers resident in local authorities that continue to fail to create Gypsy and Traveller site provision.
There will always be need for some publicly provided sites, as not all Gypsies or Travellers have the means to buy their own land and develop a site. However, in addition to social sites, as provided and maintained by the local authority, many Gypsies and Travellers would prefer to live on small, privately-owned sites. As the consultation response from Wrexham Citizens Advice Bureau explains, these families face an extremely difficult task obtaining planning permission for this usage. The Welsh Government should work with local authorities to ensure that these families are provided with support when choosing the location of their sites to ensure the maximum chance of obtaining planning permission.
The White Paper states that the Welsh Government will make a “concerted effort” to, “identify surplus public land and buildings that could be utilised for other purposes. This includes the development of a database of publicly-owned land.” The Welsh Government should consider using this land for Gypsy and Traveller sites within local authorities who fail to meet the need for appropriate accommodation.
Save the Children applauds the Welsh Government’s recognition that providing adequate and appropriate homes is of paramount importance for all young people. The paper itself rightly states that, “for children, a home is vital for health and for their development before and during formal education. Poor housing can have a significant impact upon what they achieve, which in turn affects their prospects and the opportunities they have throughout their lives.” Surprisingly, the White Paper makes no mention of the Welsh Government’s own Travelling to a Better Future: Framework for Action, which also states the need for Gypsy and Traveller sites across Wales.
In addition to our work around the need for Gypsy and Traveller sites, we are increasingly concerned about the housing conditions experienced by Roma migrants. We have been given anecdotal evidence that the problems of overcrowding and rogue landlords – as outlined in the White Paper – particularly apply to these communities in South Wales. Therefore, we are pleased to note Welsh Government’s commitment to legislate for “a national, mandatory, registration and accreditation scheme for private landlords, letting and management agents based on agreed Codes of Practice, and ensure every tenant has a written tenancy agreement.” Roma families arriving in Wales are likely to view substandard conditions as an improvement on their previous circumstances, and as such, monitoring needs to be undertaken to ensure that these families report rogue landlords. Education workers and Health Visitors are crucial professionals who can help to identify potential issues around accommodation through the home visits they undertake. These professionals have shared concerns about overcrowded, damp, and poor quality housing that children are growing up living in. Save the Children is particularly concerned about the health impacts that these children are likely to suffer in this environment, preventing them from fulfilling their potential.
The White Paper also features a section relating to Fuel Poverty but makes no mention about how it relates to Gypsies and Travellers living on caravan sites. During our consultation process, we asked nine Gypsies and Travellers if they thought they used more than 10% of their income on fuel for heating. All of them said that this was comfortably the case, all estimating that they spent at least 20% of their income on gas bottles for their trailers.
As we know, children can suffer serious health impacts from living in cold conditions including Asthma and other respiratory illnesses. We also know that educational achievement and mental health can be affected by living in these conditions. Yet Gypsies and Travellers do not seem to be included in measures designed to address Fuel Poverty. These families struggle in a similar way to rural households as they can not access mains gas. However, whilst the White Paper seems to suggest a greater emphasis on insulation will address the problem of Fuel Poverty, it is difficult to see how caravans can be insulated enough to prevent these families having to spend such a large percentage of their income to keep their children warm.
- The Welsh Government should consider how Gypsy and Traveller communities can be included within measures to alleviate Fuel Poverty.
Save the Children is also pleased to see that the Welsh Government intends to remove the intentionality test for families with children. In the past, Gypsy and Traveller families have been omitted from homelessness application processes because they have been deemed to have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’. This change is a very positive step for the right of children to a good enough standard of living, as these children will not be evicted with little prospect of stable and appropriate accommodation.
We are, however, concerned about the practicalities of the new ‘homelessness solutions’ duty. Although around 60% of Gypsies and Travellers live in bricks and mortar housing, the vast majority of community members we work with have expressed their desire to live in trailers. Many families have moved into bricks and mortar for the benefit of sick or elderly relatives, or to ensure that their children can receive a stable education. In addition, some families have accepted bricks and mortar when faced with the alternative cycle of evictions from unauthorised encampments. All Gypsies and Travellers resident on unauthorised encampments are statutorily homeless and, as such, subject to this homelessness duty. The White Paper seems to suggest that local authorities will be able to offer bricks and mortar accommodation to these families, rather than the preferred Gypsy or Traveller site. If this offer is refused, the White Paper suggests that families would no longer be eligible for support under the homelessness duty, sacrificing the family’s right to social housing. This is despite some Gypsy and Traveller families experiencing a “cultural aversion to housing.”
Furthermore, the White Paper states that, “if a period of six months expires without a housing solution being achieved, the local authority would need to accept a statutory homelessness application.” However, this statement does not make it clear how this would relate to Gypsy and Traveller families living on unauthorised encampments. The encampment itself, given that all other sites in the local authority were full or unavailable, would show that there is need for Gypsy and Traveller sites but if the local authority fails to identify land for a new site, this family may remain on an unauthorised site for six months. Once that time expires, the White Paper suggests that the application must be accepted by the local authority, and therefore, a new site built.
- Clearly define what qualifies as a “suitable housing solution” for Gypsy and Traveller families.
- Establish a procedure about how this new homelessness duty will apply to families living on unauthorised encampments.
Save the Children welcomes the Welsh Government’s Homes for Wales Housing White Paper and its recommendations around improvements to the housing system, the statutory duty to provide Gypsy and Traveller sites, preventing family homelessness, setting standards for the private and public rented sector, and the new homelessness duty.
Parents and children who we consulted, especially about ‘the duty’, fundamentally agreed and supported the Welsh Government’s plans to reform the housing sector in this way. Some of their thoughts and comments are summarised in Appendix 1.
 Reference to Clarke vs Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, 2002. More information here: http://www.lgtu.org.uk/Gypsies,%20Travellers%20aversion%20to%20conventional%20housing%20Johnson%20-%20LGTF.pdf
For more information about the Travelling Ahead project and the situation facing young Gypsies and Travellers in Wales, please visit www.travellingahead.org.uk or contact us on the details at the top of this document.
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Save the Children works in more than 120 countries. We save children’s lives. We fight for their rights. We help them fulfil their potential.
In the UK Save the Children works to ensure that the rights of children are protected, promoted and respected in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and other international human rights instruments. We believe no child should have their childhood experiences or life chances damaged by living in poverty.
Consultation responses – the need for ‘the duty’
“There aren’t enough sites for Gypsy people. It means young people could continue to live in trailers,” Roseanne; “There should be more sites,” Caitlin, 12, and Tiffany, 9; “Yes, more sites because we have nowhere to go,” Montana; “Yes, as the children grow up they will have nowhere to live otherwise,” Conn; “Yeah, there should be more. More transit sites mean that we can continue ‘Gypsy Ways’,” Tony, Jim and Mary; “Gypsies should be able to have their say in life, they have rights”; “Yes you should make this happen because it’s our culture,” Chelsea, 12; “Yes, I think it is a good idea that the council develops more sites,” Gethyn; “Yes, because we are all the same and need to live somewhere,” Terry, 16;”Yes it is a good idea,” Johnny, 21; “To legalise a site is a really good idea. I support it and I hope it will happen sooner than later. If people don’t have to live an illegal lifestyle is it better for the whole society,” Bridget, 19; “Yes you should do it,” Katie, 14; “Yes, because they need sites,” Lizzy, 14; “I think sites should be provided for Gypsy Travellers because they would have somewhere to live legally. This would prevent them living on other peoples’ land illegally,”; “Yes because we need more space and rights,” Ruby, 12; “Yes there should be more sites,” Kelly; “Yes we definitely need more sites in Wales,” Courtney; “Yes because it would give more room,” Sam; “Yes because there aren’t enough places to live,” Lala, 15; “Yes, the culture of living on a site as a community is important to British culture”; “Yes because family are around on sites,” Chantelle, 16; “Yes, even though I like it better in a house”; “Yes we need planning permission for Travellers’ yards”; “Yes because there are more people in the community and this would give us more places to travel,” Chelsea, 12; “Yes because there’s not many Travellers living on sites cause there isn’t room for them to live anywhere,” Sam, 15; “Yes! There should be more sites!!” Fallon; “Yes, I do think there should be more Gypsy and Traveller sites,” Naomi, 13; “Yes we do need more sites in Wales for our children’s future,” Cherene; “I think the government is doing the right thing on proposing more Gypsy sites in Wales because there is an urgent need for them,” Ruby; “Yes, and why? Because we won’t have anywhere to live!” Courtney, 14; “Yes because it’s Travellers’ rights and family can stay together”; “Yes, I think it is a good idea because we won’t have to stop on sides of roads,” Levi, 13; “Yes there will be less people roaming around and the police called,” Sal, 15.
What should happen if local authorities still don’t provide sites?
The following responses were made:
“Welsh Government should force them,” Roseanne; “Councils should get fined,” Tiffany; “Councillors should be sacked or fined,” Caitlin; “They should be sued”; “Welsh Government will force them,” Conn; “They should be sued for racism,” Tony, Jim and Mary.
Why is it important to have sites?
The following responses were made:
“Because we were brought up to be Gypsy,” Tiffany; “Because we want to travel,” Caitlin; “The Gypsy Ways – our life is disappearing”; “I like to travel”; “It’s important for our children,” Tony, Jim and Mary; “I was born into this life and I want it to continue,” Conn.