So, I find myself in Brussels awaiting the arrival of the Pembrokeshire youth forum and their indefatigable super-teacher Bev Stephens! I had set out this evening with the best intentions of reading piles of documents about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities from across Europe in anticipation of the meetings i’ll be attending tomorrow but after 15 pages, that’s about all my brain could take. Instead, I started the ‘light’ reading I brought with me – ‘The Spirit Level‘ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.
It’s one of those books that i’ve intended to read for months and months but having spotted it on a colleague’s desk on Friday, and knowing that i’d have at least 10 hours on trains during this trip, I finally obtained a copy! No sooner had I sat down to read it this evening than I realised i’d got through 150 pages – for me, that’s an achievement. What was the key to my interest?
Too often when you’re working with minority communities it is easy to lose track of the big picture. Instead, you end up reading piles of documents about those specific communities. The great thing about ‘The Spirit Level‘ is that the underpinning thesis – that inequality leads to most social ills – predicts the conclusions to those reports I failed to read tonight. Gypsies, Roma and Travellers – like all disadvantaged groups in society – will continue to suffer worse outcomes until this inequality is dealt with on a wider level. Much of the discrimination and poor outcomes they face are a symptom of the wider structure of our society.
In fact, the argument about inequality stretches far enough to include the negative attitudes many from these communities hold towards wider society. Chapter 10 begins with a stark warning from history to those who want to pay lip service to GRT inclusion, from Frederick Douglass, the emancipated African-American slave (1886), :
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organised conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
An evening well spent.