• Date of adoption of statement: 8 April 2022                                                        
  • Review date: By 31 March 2023
  • Statement owner: Policy Ethics and Human Rights Committee

BASW UK statement against Anti-Gypsyism

Preamble

BASW is committed to working to end racism and oppression in social work and across society as part of our overarching commitment to promoting human rights, equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) for all. This is guided by our UK Code of Ethics (2021) and is described in our overarching statement on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and our UK anti-racism statement.

This statement can be read in conjunction with these other source documents.

BASW UK recognises that race can mean colour or nationality (including citizenship) and also covers all ethnic and racial groups. This means a group of people who all share the same protected characteristic of ethnicity or race within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010[1]

With BASW’s commitment to act to promote equality, diversity and inclusion comes the necessity for understanding and action on different forms of racism and oppression against specific groups in society. While there may be important commonalities for groups experiencing oppression and hatred, there are also distinctive forms, histories and societal and political driving factors that shape specific discriminations and experiences. There are also distinctive barriers for different protected groups from exercising their rights in UK societies.

This statement is about actively tackling racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people (anti-Gypsyism), and promoting their human and social rights, primarily in UK context.

Legal framework

BASW is a professional association and registered company. It is legally accountable to act in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. For the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, an association is an organisation that has at least twenty-five members and regulates admission to membership using rules and a selection process which applies to BASW.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful for an association to discriminate against or victimise its members, prospective members, guests and associates, on the basis of race and religion. Discrimination can be ‘direct’ or ‘indirect.’ The Equality Act 2010 also makes it unlawful for an association to harass the same groups of people on the basis of race and ethnicity, or religion and belief.

Protection of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people

Gypsy, Roma and some Traveller people are protected against discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 in England, Wales and Scotland and under the Race Relations (NI) Order 1997 in Northern Ireland. Romany Gypsies, Scottish Gypsy/Travellers and Irish Travellers have all been declared by the courts to be protected as “races” under the Equality Act 2010. Roma is a distinct ethnic group in law, and therefore protected by equality legislation. 

At least two Traveller groups – show people and New (or New Age) travellers – while sharing cultural and lifestyle commonalities with Gypsy and Roma people are not recognised as having protected characteristics (in the absence of another protected characteristic) and are not protected against discrimination on the basis of their traveller identity alone. 

In addition to the Equality Act’s prohibition of discrimination, section 149 of the Act requires public authorities, in the exercise of their functions, to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between persons with protected characteristics and those that do not share them. Public authorities are required to have due regard to this duty when exercising relevant statutory functions (e.g., education and health provision).

This statement outlines BASW’s position against racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals and communities in the context of meeting our obligations under the Equality Act 2010. As a professional association for social workers governed by our UK Code of Ethics (2021). This latest version reflects the widened definitions of characteristics within the ethical principles of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) now embedded in our Code:

Social workers have a responsibility to challenge oppression on any basis, including (but not limited to) age, capacity, civil status, class, culture, disability, ethnicity, family structure, gender, gender identity, language, nationality (or lack of), political beliefs, poverty, race, relationship status, religion, sex, sexual orientation or spiritual beliefs. 

(BASW Code of Ethics 2021 section 2.2 Social Justice (1) Challenging Oppression)

This statement on standing against racism and discrimination against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and the promotion of their rights is one of an evolving group of statements that acknowledge specific experiences of racism and other oppression by particular groups of people in the UK.

It can help guide social workers to understand the experiences of Gypsy. Roma and Traveller individuals and communities in UK society, address anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller sentiment, discrimination and racism and promote Gypsy. Roma and Traveller rights within social work and wider. 

Statement on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights 

Terminology, definitions and scope

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have all been part of British society for many centuries and share a number of cultural and lifestyle characteristics. The Traveller Movement describes these similarities as: 

‘…the importance of family and/or community networks; the nomadic way of life, a tendency toward self-employment, experience of disadvantage and having the poorest health outcomes in the United Kingdom.’ [2]

They also share experiences in the UK of systemic discrimination, bigotry, prejudice and racial hatred that can take many forms. Their traditional travelling cultures is and has long been a key factor in discrimination - for example, in recent years, the non-compliance of local authorities with legislation requiring them to provide stopping sites has largely been unchallenged and in the recent Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Part IV) the Westminster government seeks to criminalise stopping on non-designated land by travelling people for the first time in British history). 

The 2019 Westminster Women and Equalities Committee report summarised the definition of Gypsy. Roma and Traveller communities in the following way:

The term Gypsy, Roma and Traveller has been used by policymakers and researchers to describe a range of ethnic groups or those with nomadic ways of life who are not from a specific ethnicity. In the UK, it is common to differentiate between Gypsies (including English Gypsies, Scottish Gypsy/Travellers, Welsh Gypsies and other Romany people), Irish Travellers, who have specific Irish roots, and Roma, understood to be more recent migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. In continental Europe, however, all groups with nomadic histories are categorised as “Roma”, a much broader term that, while it includes Gypsies and Irish Travellers, is not the way in which most British communities would identify themselves.

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities are even more diverse within the UK and globally than this brief description conveys. For instance, Roma communities have different names in different countries and speak a variety of dialects of Romani (as well as most often speaking national languages) which can be very different from each other, although all have Indic linguistic roots.   

In the UK, ‘Roma’ is often used currently to describe migrant populations from Central and Eastern Europe that have arrived in the last half-century and as an umbrella term to describe many sub-groups, including Sinti (Germany and Northern Italy), Lovari (Hungary), Kale (Wales), Cale (Spain) and many others. 

More recent Roma migrants to the UK may have as much or more in common (in terms of their economic and social needs and their experience of discrimination) with other recent, marginalised migrant communities than with long-established British and Irish citizens from Gypsy Roma and Travelling communities.

People of Romani Gypsy origin have lived in the UK since at least the 16th Century, having arrived from continental Europe to where they had migrated from northern India centuries earlier. The term ‘Gypsy’ has been used since the 16th century, deriving from ‘Egyptian’ referring in a generalist way to a foreign person with dark skin.

Romani Gypsies, who are of Indian origin, are ethnically and linguistically different from Traveller groups of e.g., Scottish and Irish descent some of whom may be called or refer to themselves as ‘Gypsies’

All the above-described Gypsy. Roma and Traveller groups are protected under the Equality Act 2010 on the basis of their ethnicity, race and/or nationality. 

The term ‘traveller’ can also encompass groups that travel, including, but not limited to, New Travellers, Boaters, Bargees and Showpeople. These Travellers are not protected by equality legislation unless they are also covered by definitions in the preceding paragraph (or on the basis of other protected characteristics). 

While these wider groups are not the primary focus of this document, as stated above BASW has adopted the IFSW ethical principles which include the ‘responsibility to challenge oppression on any basis’ . In practice, social workers working with individuals, families or communities are guided by our Code of Ethics and are expected to understand the importance of self-defined culture, lifestyle and beliefs of all persons they work with, their rights and the discrimination or prejudice they may experience on grounds of protected and other characteristics.  

History of anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller prejudice

BASW recognises that Gypsy. Roma and Traveller people in the UK and across the world have a distinctive history of being targets of discrimination and racial hatred. This dates back centuries in various forms. 

One of the most recent in the twentieth century led to the genocide of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people by Nazi Germany during World War Two and its collaborators. This genocide - known in Romani as the Porajmos – was alongside the Holocaust genocide of Jewish, disabled and gay people across Europe and beyond. The total number of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller victims has been estimated at between 220,000 and 1,500,000 across Europe.

Severe persecution of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities has a longer history than this and continues. Current day, prevalent hate actions based on racism and stereotyping of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have a long cultural and political history. 

Solidarity

BASW recognises the longstanding and ongoing overt and covert existence, risks and impacts of such hatred within the UK and other countries and supports the work of the Council of Europe[3] and UK and international organisations upholding remembrance of all victims of the Holocaust and countering contemporary threats to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities on a par and indivisible from threats to other racial, ethnic, religious, national and belief groups.

Intergenerational impacts

BASW is also aware and sensitive to ongoing intergenerational traumatic impact on Gypsy, Roma and Traveller individuals, families and communities. This includes the ongoing impact of genocide of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the twentieth-century European Holocaust. It also includes the history of forced assimilation policies and the disproportionate removals of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children from families by state authorities. This is both a historic source of trauma and an ongoing concern in respect of current child protection services’ approaches to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and poor relationships between these communities and, for instance, social services. 

As Dr. Dan Allen writes of the diverse communities signified by the descriptor ‘Gypsy, Roma and Traveller’ 

“Despite the important differences that exist between these diverse groups of people, all seem to share common experiences, of racism, discrimination, poverty, social injustice including the systematic removal of children into public care.”[4]

BASW and social work’s commitment to anti-Gypsyism

As the professional association for social workers across the UK, we must continue to build our leadership role in tackling anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller racism, hate and discrimination, particularly as it affects our profession and the people we support. 

BASW is pleased to host the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association (GRTSWA) and Special Interest Group of social workers from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, other experts by experience and allies. 

BASW recognises that anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller discrimination can exist at an organisational and/or institutional level. For instance, it may be embedded in ways of working that (consciously or unconsciously) create unequal access to services, opportunities and rights in the workplace for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. 

As in all forms of social work, social workers should be able to act as advocates and enable and empower supporters and allies against anti-Gypsy, Roma and Traveller discrimination and hate – as with all forms of racism and oppression - appropriate to the situation. Advocacy to tackle discrimination and hate may include challenging systems and organisations, including social workers’ own employing organisation, place of education or work contexts. 

BASW acts widely to promote an inclusive, more equal society. In this, we will call out and challenge anti-Gypsyism on behalf of our members and the profession. We will support our colleagues in the International Federation of Social Workers and other organisations in their efforts to combat racism and anti-Gypsyism across the world and promote greater visibility of tackling anti-Gypsyism in all institutions with which we are involved or a member.

Professional resources and learning activities

Our practice guidance and professional development resources for social workers will routinely embed understanding and action against anti-Gypsyism sentiment and acts alongside other anti-racist, anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory ethics, knowledge and skills. It will draw on best evidence and resources and, where appropriate, will be co-produced with Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people who use/have used services and with social workers with relevant lived experience.

BASW will work collaboratively and collectively with committed and supportive organisations and individuals across the social work sector to tackle anti-Gypsyism and amplify collective efforts to address it.

BASW UK further actions against anti-Gypsyism

BASW will continue to develop specific, UK wide actions against anti-Gypsyism and acts. These will include (and may be further developed from) the following:         

  • Ensuring our Equality Diversity and Inclusion actions develop to ensure equality of access to BASW and recognition of the inclusion requirements and contribution of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller members in all parts of the association and leadership.
  • Develop our culture and practices to value and support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people including through our internal policies and procedures
  • Ensure our services and activities continue to develop to respond to the particular needs of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller members including through our learning and other events, our journalism, our involvement opportunities, and our advice and representation service. 
  • Support the ongoing development of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association and the Special Interest Group
  • Promote learning and development about and activism to protect and promote Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights alongside other organisations including universities providing qualifying education
  • Ensure BASW, as an employer, has an open and safe staff culture that values, supports and develops Gypsy, Roma and Traveller staff members
  • Work with IFSW on international promotion and protection of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller rights
  • Challenge anti-Gypsyism in wider society and policymaking (nationally and in local services) and support members to act against this within and outside of BASW

 

Notes & references

[1] The Equality Act 2010 governs and sets the legal parameters of BASW UK’s approach to discrimination. It does not apply in Northern Ireland which has different legislation against discrimination towards racial and religious groups. The meaning of this statement applies across BASW UK and is consonant with the specific laws in place in N Ireland

[2] https://travellermovement.org.uk/gypsy-roma-and-traveller-history-and-culture/

[3] E.g., see https://www.coe.int/en/web/roma-and-travellers

[4] Dr. Dan Allen, Protecting the cultural identity of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in the public care system, Todays Children Tomorrows Parents , p2