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Social workers write to Priti Patel opposing inhumane Police Bill that discriminates against Romani and Traveller families

BASW, SWU and partner organisations express concern that recent guidance is inhumane and unlawful

The British Association of Social Workers, Social Workers Union, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association and several partner organisations have co-signed a letter to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, opposing inhumane and unlawful draft guidance recently published in support of the proposed Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.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 wording on many issues in the guidance makes it unworkable and unjust if put in place for not only social workers, but also for our health and social care colleagues. 

Under the matter of welfare issues, the guidance says that ‘the police, alongside other public bodies, should not gold-plate human rights and equalities legislation’. We do not accept that this is reasonable guidance. The wording is of no assistance to social workers or other professionals. There is no reasonable legal or policy meaning to the term ‘gold plate’ and it has no place in important statutory guidance.  

We object to the statement that ‘it is for the police to decide on proportionate enforcement action’. The police should not and usually do not unilaterally decide what is ‘proportionate’ in welfare situations, especially where children are concerned.  

Indeed, social workers should be actively consulted as part of any welfare assessments on what might be proportionate and, indeed, legally right.  

The guidance will directly or indirectly criminalise the way of life for Romani and Traveller communities, especially in the section on what constitutes ‘significant damage and distress’. It is unjust for a person or group of people to be targeted because they are judged (on unclear criteria) to be likely to commit a criminal offence.  

This attempt at predicting criminality sets a worrying precedent.  

Overall, the draft guidance conveys an inappropriate informal tone suggesting a disturbing attempt to water down fundamental human rights in relation to Romani and Traveller people, which could be illegal in domestic law and in respect of international conventions.  

We ask for urgent amendments be put in place to meet fundamental Equality Act responsibilities and to set a clear non-discriminatory framework for professionals to work within and importantly to positively support the way of life for Romani and Traveller people. 

Allison Hulmes, BASW Cymru National Director, said: "Let’s not be under any illusions, this draft guidance is designed to perpetuate and consolidate the accepted and internalised perceptions that Gypsies and Travellers are less important, their human rights don’t count, don’t ‘gold-plate’ them, water them down.

"Being protected by human rights and equalities legislation is not contingent on your individual ethnicity, substitute Gypsy and Traveller for any other ethnicity and ask yourself, would this be allowed to happen?

"As a Welsh Romani Gypsy, I have experienced directly in my own family, the impact of forced assimilation and attempts by the state, at ethnic eradication and as social workers, we cannot be complicit in implementing racist guidance to further the populist and dystopian values which underpin the Police Bill and this draft statutory guidance.”

Signatories to the letter:

Ruth Allen, CEO:  The British Association of Social Workers

Allison Hulmes, Member: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Social Work Association

John McGowan, General Secretary: Social Workers Union

British Institute of Human Rights

Ana Radulescu, IFSW Europe president, International Federation of Social Work (IFSW)

Marie Bowers, Romani woman and Technician (Physiology teaching), University of Glasgow

Katie Wise, Support member Gypsy Roma and Traveller Social Work Association, Trustee of TravellerSpace

Dr Lynne Tammi, AyeRight, Human Rights Law Policy and Practice

Clenton Farquharson MBE (personal capacity)

Updated 9 December 2021