Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Dale Farm: The human cost of prejudice

As the displaced residents of Dale Farm in Essex face another round of forced evictions, Elly Robson talks to some of the families and examines the discrimination they face

March 3, 2012
5 min read

Photo: Mary Turner

The storming of Dale Farm by hundreds of riot police at dawn on 19 October 2011 was the money shot that the press had been waiting for following weeks of legal proceedings; the next day they all went home. But three months down the line, the eviction continues for the Dale Farm community, unreported. Their former home has been systematically destroyed by Constant & Co. bailiffs, who have transformed this once vibrant and close-knit community into a sewage-filled bombsite. With nowhere else to go, the vast majority of the displaced Travellers now live on the private road (owned by them) leading to Dale Farm and on their friends’ plots on the neighbouring Oak Lane site. Living in overcrowded conditions, they lack adequate access to water and toilet facilities, the only electricity supply is through noisy and expensive generators, and many of the young children and elderly people are ill. It is an unreported refugee camp, just thirty minutes away from London.

Arriving at the site last week, we were greeted by an elderly man who looked up at the remnants of the children’s rope swings hanging from the trees and said ‘What is there to live for? What hope do we have? My wife and I have talked seriously about ending it all. This is no way to live.’ While the trauma of the eviction is still vivid for the residents, it is what happens next that worries them most of all. Kathleen, an articulate five-year-old with an acute awareness of the challenges facing her community, explained the situation to me: ‘Basildon Council and the police came and they broke everything. They broke the walls, and my granny’s caravan, and they broke all the ground, and even my mum’s back [Kathleen’s mother was hospitalised with a fractured spine during the policing operation]. We were crying and we were so scared. Now, Basildon Council want to move us again, but they can’t put us out on the road because where can we go?’

It is this last question that remains unanswered for the Dale Farm residents. Contrary to reports that the Dale Farm Travellers owned property in Ireland, the 83 families who lived at Dale Farm are now homeless. Long before the eviction, the Travellers said they would willingly leave Dale Farm if culturally appropriate alternative housing was provided, but Basildon Council have refused to acknowledge any duty to provide solutions for the community they evicted from their homes. Instead, they are pouring their resources into preparing a new set of enforcement notices, expected to be issued in the next few weeks, which will force the community out of Dale Farm and into car parks and lay bys. The children, who are the first literate generation of Dale Farm Travellers and have continued to attend school throughout the upheaval, will be uprooted from both their education and their community. Conditions at Dale Farm are dismal, but life on the road will involve endless evictions. As Mary Flynn put it, ‘No one would ever stay here if they had a choice, some place else to go. But if they evict us again, we’ll be on the road to nowhere’.

The situation at Dale Farm is not just a product of local tensions, but is symptomatic of the wider problems facing the travelling community. There is a shocking deficit of Traveller sites in the UK: 20% of the caravan-dwelling Gypsy and Irish Traveller community do not have a legal or secure place to live. In the mid-1990s, Travellers were encouraged by central government to buy their own land and settle.[1] However, planning permission is rarely granted to Traveller communities; according to the Commission for Racial Equality, more than 90% of Travellers planning applications are initially rejected, compared to 20% on average.[2] The double standards of planning applications can be witnessed in Basildon, where the Council have recently authorised a dogs’ home on the same ‘protected’ greenbelt on which Dale Farm is located.[3] In this context, Council leader Tony Ball’s maxim that ‘the [planning] law must be upheld’ begins to appear rather hollow. Indeed, while the government have recently injected some much needed cash into the provision of Traveller sites, they have simultaneously removed the duty of local councils to provide sites, increased powers to evict ‘illegal’ encampments and undermined the ability of travelling communities to challenge eviction.[4] The Dale Farm Travellers, like many others belonging to this marginalised community, are stuck between a rock and a hard place as their traditional way of life is criminalised; they cannot travel, they cannot buy their own land and settle, and local councils like Basildon are offering them no alternatives. As Basildon Council issues statistics claiming that, at a cost of over £7 million, the eviction of this community came cheap, urgent questions need to be asked about the immense human cost of institutionalised prejudice.

The Traveller Solidarity Network is organising a national speaker tour about Dale Farm throughout the month of March. Find out when it is coming to your town here: http://travellersolidarity.org/traveller-solidarity-tour/

[1] Department for Communities and Local Government, Gypsies and Travellers: Facts and Figures (Department for Communities and Local Government, March 2004).

[2] Sarah Cemlyn et al, Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller communities: A review (Equality and Human Rights Commission 2009), p. 8

[3] Basildon Borough Council, PLANNING APPLICATION NO. 11/00433/FULL (Basildon Borough Council, December 2011): http://www.basildonmeetings.info/ieDecisionDetails.aspx?AIId=26527.

[4] Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, Submission to Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into the abolition of regional spatial strategies, (Irish Traveller Movement in Britain, September 2010). Lord Avebury, Legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill (Hansard, 24 January 2012), c. 928-941.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle


32