Our big fat fairness failure

Yoshka Pundrik on the pending eviction of traveller families at Dale Farm

August 22, 2011
5 min read


Dale Farm resident Barbara Sheridan cooking in her caravan. Credit: Mary Turner

When David Cameron was asked at Prime Ministers’ Questions in March by Tory MP John Baron about the threatened eviction of 86 Traveller families from Dale Farm in Essex – now scheduled to take place at the end of August – the Prime Minister remarked that many feel ‘there is one law that applies to everybody else and, on too many occasions, another law that applies to Travellers’.

Indeed there is, but not in the way Cameron sees it. According to the Commission for Racial Equality, more than 90 per cent of Traveller planning applications are initially rejected compared to 20 per cent overall. In fact, many Gypsies and Travellers in the UK are trapped in a web of overlapping, systemic failures to respect their customs and preferences. This is compounded by lingering racism (a 2004 Mori poll revealed that one third of the public admit to being personally prejudiced against Gypsies and Travellers) and the legacy of years of exclusion. The Prime Minister’s comments betray a failure to acknowledge, and comprehend, the challenges facing this community.

Government legislation, planning restrictions and sale of public land have decimated the number of safe and legal stopping places for Gypsies and Travellers. The estimated 20 per cent of Gypsy and Traveller families without a legal place to stop often have to prioritise finding appropriate sites over health and education concerns, resulting in higher child mortality rates and lowered life expectancy. Attempts to purchase land for themselves, such as that made by the Dale Farm residents, face insurmountable obstacles: applications are opposed by local residents, sometimes vociferously. We’ve seen this at Meriden in Warwickshire and expect to see the same as Dale Farm residents continue to try to find a legal place to live.

Dale Farm itself is officially greenbelt land, but was a scrapyard when a group of residents bought it and turned it into a home for their families. Half the site has planning permission, the other half, home to about 500 people, does not. It is this half of the site that faces demolition by bailiffs Constant & Co. If recent evictions at other local sites are any indication, the operation is likely to be brutal and executed without regard for people’s possessions, safety or human rights under the law. The Council of Europe has already expressed concern about the UK’s approach in this case – and about Constant & Co in particular.

So determined are Basildon District Council to go through with the eviction that they haven’t been put off by the costs, which stand at an estimated £18 million including £10 million for policing. They’ve asked the Home Office for £6 million towards this policing bill: the Home Secretary, Theresa May, might actually make UK taxpayers foot the bill for this unnecessary eviction. Furthermore, as Rita Izsák, UN Independent Expert on minority issues, said to the UN News Centre: ‘The irony of this case is that these costs do not appear to include the provision of adequate alternative accommodation for the evicted families, which are soon to be rendered homeless.’

Against the backdrop of austerity Britain, the expense is even harder to comprehend. We’ve been asked to pay for the financial crisis caused by the banks, and now we’re being asked to pay in order to deliberately make people homeless. And pay dearly – 100 Basildon Council jobs are likely to be axed to help the local authority cope with budget cuts which will leave it £2.3 million short. Playing fields are being sold off to developers. The green belt is being destroyed in order to supposedly protect it from Travellers. They are also cutting £505,000 to disabled services. The Council wants vulnerable people in the settled community to suffer in order to make Travelling people suffer. When we can find £18 million to evict families from land they own, but can’t find the funds to keep nurseries, libraries and youth centres open, something has gone terribly wrong.

The most ridiculous part? Dale Farm Travellers have offered to leave at no cost to the Council, they just need somewhere to go. John Baron and David Cameron say the evictions are upholding the law, but the law isn’t being applied equally. The Council demands that Travellers move to authorised pitches, whilst refusing to make any available… It’s almost like it’s one rule for the rest, and another rule for the Travellers.

Yoshka Pundrik is a member of Basildon Uncut and Dale Farm Solidarity. For more information see dalefarm.wordpress.com


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry


82