Travelling Ahead : A Welsh project working with young people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.

Response to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee inquiry into the general principles of the Housing (Wales) Bill – January 2014

Tag Archive: Travelling Ahead

  1. Response to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee inquiry into the general principles of the Housing (Wales) Bill – January 2014

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    Response to the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee inquiry into the general principles of the Housing (Wales) Bill. January 2014

    Introduction

    1.1          The Travelling Ahead project, hosted by Save the Children, was established in 2009 with the aims of supporting and promoting the participation and rights of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and young people to have say in decision making and influence services, policy and legislation which affect their day to day lives.

    1.2          The project has supported the development of local Gypsy, Roma and Traveller youth forums and groups around Wales and hosts a twice yearly national forum for these young people to meet and work together on issues of shared concern alongside policy, training and advocacy work.  For more information see our website www.travellingahead.org.uk

    1.3          We are pleased to provide a response to this inquiry by the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee into the general principles of the Housing (Wales) Bill.

    1.4          Our comments relate specifically to those new duties set out in Part Three of the Bill dealing with meeting the accommodation needs of Gypsies and Travellers in Wales.

    To read the full response, click this PDF document: Travelling Ahead response Stage 1 Housing Wales Bill Jan 2014

  2. We Need Your Views!

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    We here at Travelling Ahead are looking to improve our website, so you can get the most up-to-date information and a better user experience.  We have two surveys available to help us get your views.

    If you’re a young person, please click the following link to give your feedback: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RMQJZLV

    If you’re a professional who uses our website, please click this link to give your feedback: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RXBJ9G5

    We’ll keep you updated on all the developments!

  3. The Calm Before The Storm

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    It is exactly twelve months ago this Friday that the eviction of Dale Farm shocked many members of the public, Human Rights organisations and Gypsies and Travellers alike. In its wake, the UK Coalition government has been stirring up populist feeling with increasingly hostile policies and rhetoric aimed at Gypsies and Travellers. In Wales, however, things have been very different indeed. Where the Department for Communities and Local Government have clamped down on planning policies, Gypsy and Traveller site funding, and pitch creation targets in England, the Welsh Government have done almost the polar opposite.

     

    Deep in the bowels of the Welsh Government, legislation and policies are being formulated to reinstate the duty on local authorities to provide Gypsy and Traveller sites, to ensure that residents of local authority sites are finally afforded equal security of tenure with other social housing tenants (though this was actually achieved in England in 2011), to revise the guidance relating to unauthorised encampments, and various education changes to ensure Gypsy and Traveller children achieve an adequate education.

     

    For all these steps forward, it is sometimes frustrating to see the sheer time it can take to implement changes. Part of this is the impatient youth in me having met families suffering through the absence of these policies but it is also a growing, nagging, sense that the longer these changes take to adopt the stronger the populist voice of the UK Government is felt. Already I have heard comments in meetings about concerns over creating “too attractive” an atmosphere in Wales for Gypsies and Travellers, for fear of creating “another Dale Farm”. Rather worryingly, some of those making these comments are supposedly those representing the Human Rights of protected groups such as Gypsies and Travellers.

     

    No matter how ridiculous the “another Dale Farm” statement may sound to you or I, it is certainly an opinion that is gaining ground. In Wales (though i’m sure it’s true also of the other devolved administrations), there is also a fear of being too much out on a limb. Small deviations from Westminster policy is often seen as a source of pride but compounding differences, say through a collection of more compassionate policies, can be seen as dangerous. Though I do not think we will see any of these developing policies being scrapped or shelved, we should all be watchful that the detail does not mask new inequalities or provide convenient get-out clauses for public authorities who have historically made frequent use of them.

     

    Looking back at Dale Farm twelve months ago, many of us hoped it wouldn’t happen again but felt that the political will and legislation wasn’t there to prevent a reoccurance. Over the next twelve months we will hopefully have the legislative infrastructure in place in Wales but we will still need to grapple with the thorny issue of political will. We all know that political will mirrors public opinion, for obvious reasons. Therefore, we either have to convince politicians to go out on that limb and hope that public opinion changes to reward their gamble or we need to substantially change public opinion first.

     

    At our last National Forum event in March, one young man from Flintshire asked me “what will this forum actually achieve, for me, in my area? It’s all good to talk about the media and changing things but will it stop the people in my school calling me a pikey?”  In all honesty, I think this is likely to be a generational change, which will require a collection of inspired young Gypsies and Travellers to take the issue forward themselves, a cadre of commited Human Rights advocates and activists, the legislation that is being introduced over the next year to encourage a proliferation of small sites able to access local services and the resulting generation of the general public who grew up with, or near, Gypsies and Travellers. Only then will the public realise that, actually, their communities are just like any other – good and bad in every one. Our next National Forum will take place on Friday, where I hope we can go some way towards inspiring that next generation of Gypsies and Travellers to self-advocate for their rights and to get engaged with making those necessary changes. Is there an easy fix? No, but find me a Civil Rights struggle that was easy.

  4. Progress being made on Elective Home Education

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    The education of young people is a fundamental right that everyone should be able to expect, wherever they live and whoever they are. In Wales, we expect that children have access to adequate compulsory education until they are 16. Most people would expect this education to happen in the school environment. However, in practice there are approximately 1000 children in Wales educated at home, rather than in school. There is not a problem with this in theory as many parents simply believe that their children can get a better and more appropriate education outside the normal school system. In recent years though, Save the Children and education professionals have raised concerns with the Welsh Government about the monitoring and assessment of home schooling.

    Educators from across Wales have become increasingly worried about the trend towards Gypsy and Traveller children being withdrawn from schools to be home educated. The source of the worry is that these educators know that some of the families who are pledging to home educate their children, have little education themselves. Furthermore, current regulations do not require Local Authorities (LAs) to have even annual meetings with home educators and parents to discuss what is being taught or learnt. Our concern is that some children are not receiving their right to an education and the current legal position allows it to happen without consequences. In reality, the vast majority of those who are home schooled probably receive a good standard of education but we are convinced that some children are withdrawn from school early and do not receive further education – sometimes from the age of 11.

    The Travelling Ahead project raised these concerns, as part of the All-Wales Traveller Education Forum, with Leighton Andrews AM as much as two years ago. We are very pleased to see that the Welsh Government has indeed decided to consult on changes to the Elective Home Education system. The consultation suggests two major changes:
    Firstly, all children who are to be home educated must be registered with the LA in the area they live in. Currently, providing accurate numbers of children in this situation can be difficult as there is no requirement on parents to notify the LA. If these changes are adopted, it will be the duty of parents to notify the LA and there will be a duty on the LA to keep an accurate formal register of home educated children. Crucially, if a parent fails to convince the LA that the child will be receiving an adequate education, the request to home educate can be refused.

    Secondly, the LA must visit home educated children annually to monitor and assess the standard and appropriateness of the education they are receiving. There will be no requirement for home educated children to follow the curriculum or to undertake school assessments or exams. Again, if the visit fails to convince the LA that the child is receiving an adequate education, the home schooling arrangement can be revoked.

    Save the Children welcomes these changes, though more work does need to be done by the Welsh Government to ensure that those monitoring the home education can properly assess the standard. The changes above may seem like common sense to many but until now these loopholes have existed to allow young people to effectively circumvent the Education Act 1994. Gypsies and Travellers will benefit from these changes as it is crucial that young people have access to education if they are to fulfil their potential. It is in the best interests of the majority of children to participate in the schooling process.

    However, despite this progress, there are fundamental issues that still need to be addressed. The most relevant of which is, ‘why would Gypsy or Traveller parents want to withdraw their children from education?’

    There are many reasons why this might happen but ultimately many make that decision because school is not seen as relevant or welcoming enough for their child to participate. We do still see bullying of young Gypsies and Travellers in our schools (especially after Big Fat Gypsy Weddings) but the lack of appreciation of these communities is perhaps more damaging. Gypsies are occasionally mentioned in passing during teaching of the Holocaust but there is little taught about the origins of these communities or their valuable contributions to agriculture and the industrial revolution as a mobile and willing workforce. When teaching about the slave trade it usually exclusively about the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade, ignoring the Gypsies who have been repeatedly enslaved in Eastern Europe. There is also very little recognition of the cultural value of Gypsy and Traveller communities in twenty-first century society.

    Many Gypsy and Traveller families we have spoken to simply don’t see the value of secondary education. The general belief is that if children can read, write and count to a basic level there isn’t often much need to complete formal education. GCSEs are rarely seen to be important if the young people have already been lined-up to takeover the family business. In fact, the consultation states that, “case law has broadly described suitable education as one that ‘primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so‘.”

    It is that last section which educators and Save the Children are keen to stress. There is nothing wrong with Gypsy and Traveller families providing home education, or planning for a future without the need for GCSEs or other qualifications. However, even the best laid plans  often go awry and it is crucial that these young people are able to have a back-up plan when it is needed.

    Save the Children will continue to monitor developments and update the blog accordingly. If you would like to comment on the consultation, you can do by following this link:

    http://wales.gov.uk/consultations/education/registeringandmonitoring/?lang=en