Open Letter By The West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network to Philip Davies MP challenging his attack on the Gypsy and Traveller Community

 

Dear Mr. Philip Davies MP,

We the undersigned from the West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network are writing to you to express our deep concern at the tirade of abuse unleashed by you against the Gypsy and Traveller community.

Your statement published in the Telegraph and Argus criticising Bradford Council for putting £352,000 towards refurbishing amenities at the Mary Street and Esholt sites in Shipley, and describing the works as “an outrageous waste of money” reveal the racist attitude, and discriminatory lens through which you “serve” some of your constituents.

We are disappointed at the misleading language deployed in your statement, which depicts a largely flawed reality of the funding assigned for renovation of sites, and robs Gypsies and Travellers of their rights as equal citizens who are entitled to access central and local government funds.

As organisations committed to promoting racial equality, we would like to set out the reasons why we believe your statement seems designed to widen the gap in inequalities between West Yorkshire’s communities.

“Waste of money”:

Your description of the works as being “an outrageous waste of money” ignores the fact that the repairs at the site are essential to bringing accommodation up to the standards required by law.

Expenditures for the refurbishment project draw on £468,000 worth of funds designated specifically for increasing pitches that was provided by the Homes and Communities Agency, and another £352,000 put forward by Bradford Council. Both funds are ring-fenced which means that, by law, the money cannot be used for any other purpose.

Commenting on your stance regarding the renovations, Helen Jones, chief executive officer at Leeds GATE, an organization advocating for the rights of Gypsies and Travellers said:

“Philip Davies’ views are of course disappointing but not surprising. He is increasingly out of touch with modern housing and public health management.

“The old approach of utterly disregarding the health and wellbeing, and social care needs of whole groups of families on the basis of minority status – and on the fact that they had wheels, so authorities literally could just push them out of the district – is increasingly discredited.

“On a cost basis alone maintaining decent well established homes, enabling young and old to tap into local social networks, services and opportunities, represents significantly less drain on public finances than the old ‘shift em, shift em’ approach advocated by Mr. Davies.  There is no lack of evidence that such an approach leads to crisis driven or reactive policy and service provision which is significantly more expensive to deliver.”

Indeed, it is acknowledged that nationally there is a shortage of suitable accommodation for Gypsy and Traveller communities. The Planning Policy for Traveller Sites highlights the government’s aim to increase the number of sites in appropriate locations with planning permission in order to address under provision and maintain an appropriate level of supply. The policy asks local councils to identify sites to meet Traveller needs for five years, and to forecast fifteen years ahead where possible. Councils were given 27 March 2013 as a deadline to demonstrate an up-to-date five-year supply of deliverable sites or else applications for temporary permissions would be granted.

To support the local councils with this process, in January 2012, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced successful bids totaling £47million that go towards providing over 750 new and refurbished pitches for Travellers.

We commend Bradford Council for fulfilling their responsibility and pressing on with the refurbishment plan.

Ratna Lachman, Director of JUST West Yorkshire, a human rights charity believes that Bradford Council’s efforts to meet the housing needs of Gypsies and Travellers without discrimination, demonstrates an enlightened approach.

“The right to family life and secure accommodation is a human rights issue and Bradford Council’s investment in making suitable and secure accommodation available for Gypsies and Travellers should be held up as a model of good practice to be emulated by all local authorities. As a Bradford MP he should be working co-operatively with Bradford Council to meet the very real housing shortages facing Gypsies and Travellers instead of appealing to populist sentiments that have very little basis in reality.”

Equal citizenship:

In Britain, we pride ourselves on the values of equality and have legislation in place that reflects our will as a nation to stamp out intolerant attitudes from public life. Yet the persistent discrimination meted out to the Gypsy and Traveller community, fuelled by the rhetoric you espouse, undermines those efforts.

Gypsies are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country and members of this community experience multiple forms of deprivation compounded by extreme racism and exclusion; factors which lead to poorer chances in life.

Your statement that “The Council just seems to have a never-ending supply of money for these politically-correct hobby horses” is both callous and discriminatory as it sets a paradigm where refurbishment of Gypsy and Traveller sites should be viewed differently from refurbishment to any other form of social housing.

Representation:

Gypsies and Travellers have had a presence in Shipley and Baildon for centuries – the Baildon Gypsy Fair held in June 2012 celebrated this community’s long-standing heritage and connection with the area. Many of your constituents will belong to that community and as their MP you are required to represent their interests and advocate for their needs too.

Therefore, claiming that your “constituents think this sort of thing should not be a priority for Bradford Council” raises questions over your connectedness with some of your constituents, and whether you are truly representative of them.

At a time when communities are looking towards their politicians for leadership in promoting greater community cohesion, your stance and language, will exacerbate prejudices and encourage the far right to continue sowing seeds of hatred in our towns and cities.

The Racial Justice Network submitted the above statement to Philip Davies MP and invited him to comment. He responded saying:

“With regards to whether I am effectively representing my constituents, a poll in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus following the article showed that 92% of respondents agreed with me which I am sure you will accept is a very high figure.

However, if you feel that you are more in tune with my constituents than I am then I suggest that you, or one of your colleagues from your organisation, stands against me at the next General Election so that the people of the Shipley constituency can decide.  As a democrat I am very happy to accept the verdict of my constituents at the General Election whatever that might be.”

His response is disappointing as it defines politics in populist rather than inclusive terms and only serves to further disempower already marginalised Gypsy and Traveller communities.

The Open Letter is supported by:

Advocacy Support
African Women Support Project
Building Bridges
Equity Partnership
Father Nicholas Clews, representing St. Margaret’s Church
Involve Yorkshire & Humber
JUST West Yorkshire
Leeds Gypsy and Traveller Exchange
Leeds West Indian Charitable Trust
Next Generation
Ravensthorpe Community Centre
Thornbury Centre
York Travellers Trust

 

By: Arwa Almari – West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network Coordinator