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Police Bill: BASW UK receives response from Home Office on unauthorised encampments guidance

The draft guidance further discriminates against Gypsy and Traveller communities, with it telling police to avoid ‘gold-plating’ the human rights of those using unauthorised encampments

Earlier this month BASW UK, SWU, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association and several partner organisations co-signed a letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, opposing inhumane and unlawful draft guidance recently published in support of the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.  

The draft guidance further discriminates against Gypsy and Traveller communities, with it telling police to avoid ‘gold-plating’ the human rights of those using unauthorised encampments when it comes to taking enforcement action in England and Wales.

We have now received a response from the Home Office, in which the Government defended the use of the term ‘gold-plating’ in reference to human rights as they say it is a phrase that they have used since March 2015. We believe this is not a sufficient defence - and that human rights are nothing if not gold-plated and protected.

The Government goes on to justify the use of enforcement action against unauthorised encampments but does not address the concerns that have been raised about the Bill.

During the Lords scrutiny stage, an amendment was submitted that would mean the local authority would have to provide a suitable authorised site before people were removed from unauthorised encampments, but this was not supported by the Government and ultimately failed to pass. Instead of legislating to improve the provision of authorised encampments, the Government is focusing on penalising those who have no choice but to use unauthorised sites.

Despite the response from the Home Office, our concern that Gypsy and Traveller communities will be unfairly targeted through this guidance and legislation remains.

BASW will continue to raise the impact that the Bill and accompanying guidance will have on marginalised groups such as Gypsy and Traveller communities.

The guidance is designed to accompany the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill that is currently going through the legislative stages in the Houses of Parliament. The Bill also places limits on the right to protest, with measures such as the expansion of stop and search powers, and a new power for police to ban named people from demonstrations.

Allison Hulmes, BASW Cymru National Director, said: "We welcome the response from the Home Office, but it has not addressed the human rights concerns we raised and does not, therefore, reassure us that the human rights of Gypsies and Travellers will be a primary concern in relation to any enforcement action that results from this Bill becoming law.

"We will continue to work with key partner agencies to ensure that social workers have clear guidance which does not undermine the Equalities Act 2010 or the Human Rights Act 2010 and is consistent with our codes of ethics and values."