Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights / PSPOs

How councils are abusing their powers to target Gypsies and Travellers

Posted by Emma Nuttall on 02 Feb 2017

Emma Nuttall is the Advice and Policy Manager for Friends, Families and Travellers (FFT). Here she blogs for Liberty on yet another example of these Orders being misused to target a vulnerable minority group.

Introduced in 2014, Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) let local councils criminalise any activity they deem to have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”. This power is overly broad and ripe for abuse.

In July 2016, Brighton and Hove Council became the first local authority to our knowledge to use Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) to ban Gypsies and Travellers stopping on the 12 traditional places they have used most in the city, and around it, for decades.

PSPOs are supposed to be about dealing with anti-social behaviour in public places. But in this case the mere existence of a caravan is deemed sufficient to trigger action, even if there is no accompanying anti-social behaviour whatsoever.

The residents of Brighton and Hove were not consulted about what they considered the main types of anti-social behaviour in their city.

Instead the agenda was set for them by the council, which launched a consultation proposing to use PSPOs against Traveller encampments. Unsurprisingly, when presented with this ‘problem’, it was a fait accompli for people to respond in support of the plans.

Many traditional out-of-the-way stopping places in the city have been blocked off by way of ditches, bunds and gates, preventing homeless Gypsies and Travellers from stopping on them and forcing them into more high-profile stopping places like parks and the seafront.

Not setting the ‘right tone’

Travellers cannot just evaporate. They cannot drive around continually without ever stopping. Gypsy and Traveller children (who have the lowest educational achievement of any ethnic minority) need to be able to access an education and adults need to be able to earn a living.

Councils, including Brighton and Hove, are failing in their legal requirement to provide a five-year supply of deliverable sites. Research carried out by FFT in 2016 showed that, of the 66 local authorities in the South East, only 10 had identified their five-year supply.

Brighton and Hove were not one of these, and have a recognised need for 32 pitches on sites. So why are they putting the cart before the horse and criminalising homeless Gypsies and Travellers for their own failure to provide sufficient sites for them to live on?

This is not the first time in history that Gypsies and Travellers have been seen as undesirable, or as not ‘setting the right tone’.

Targeting the most vulnerable

The council has absolutely rightly, not introduced PSPOs against rough sleepers in the city of which there are a great many. So why against homeless Travellers – are they an easier political ‘win’?

And here lies the problem with PSPOs. The power to make them is so broad that councils can use them – and have been using them – to curb anything or anyone they consider an inconvenience.

All over the country, local authorities have proposed, and in some cases enforced, Orders targeted at some of the most vulnerable in society – people they should be focusing on helping.

People sleeping on the streets or in public toilets, people forced to beg, people searching for food in dustbins and people who use mobility scooters have all been considered targets by overzealous councils using PSPOs.

A domino effect?

Our concern is that Gypsies and Travellers will join this ever-growing list – and that this PSPO will create a domino effect of local authorities misusing these powers to make them another town’s “problem”.

Gypsies and Travellers already face widespread discrimination and prejudice, and people have little knowledge of their culture and traditions.

What message does it send for those in authority to criminalise them for doing nothing more than stopping in their city?

PSPOs threaten everybody’s freedom – but it is the vulnerable and minorities who will suffer most. They need to go.

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