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Labour-run Sandwell Council is proposing to hold a Gypsy Awareness Month in schools with a month of classes to include "myth busting" and telling children why gypsies feel stigmatised. The recruitment of a Gypsy and Traveller Liason Officer to the Council's Communities Unit is proposed as part of a 23-point programme.

Among the "myths" they will be seeking to "bust" is that traveller sites cause crime. The problem is they do. A National Farmers Union survey for their report Rural Outlaws suggests that 80% of farmers have suffered in some way – over half have had farm equipment stolen, over 20% had been subjected to physical threats. The report was from 2003 but I suspect the situation will have got far worse since then with councils reluctant to take action against illegal sites because of the Human Rights Act. (Although there may be something in the Government's response that this is just an excuse for Councils to avoid taking action.)

The plans in Sandwell come from the Equality and Diversity Scrutiny Panel – so let us hope nothing will come of them. The report says it's recommendations would have a "very real impact on community cohesion." It's impact would be real but negative. Mostly it would be a gift for the British National Party who already have councillors in Sandwell.

If the Sandwell councillor's objective of making the "nomadic community feel part of the wider community" is really to be achieved then the answer is equality before the law. The planning law needs to be enforced by Councils to end illegal sites. The criminal law needs to be enforced by the police, for instance in making serious efforts to recover stolen farm equipment, rather than ignore the problem because of the "sensitivities."

37 comments for: Sandwell Council holds Gypsy Awareness month in schools

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