The Post Bag: Letters To Squall
Travelling With Prejudice
Squall 10, Summer 1995, pg. 50.
In Bosnia, it is the Muslims. In France, it is the Africans. In Germany, it is the Turks. In contemporary times, stories of discrimination against social and ethnic minorities abound across the borders of civilised Western society. In England, it is the travellers.
Over the past 20 years, born of the growth in ‘hippie’ culture during the 1960’s and incubated by many other factors - cultural, financial and political - a growing amount of British people have chosen to live a nomadic lifestyle.
Following the example of traditional Gypsies, they have abandoned a settled way of life in houses in favour of existing ‘on the road’, using caravans, trucks, buses, and tent-like benders to solve their housing problems. Aid agencies currently estimate their numbers at around
150,000 although no official census has ever been made; with many finding their homes across the rural southern and western regions of England on small pockets of unused and publicly owned land.
The popularity of this unregulated DIY approach to problems of housing and quality of life has provoked huge disquiet amongst the ranks of an already deeply unpopular and embattled Government. A distinct lack of living sites, no social provision for travellers’ needs, and a lengthy smear campaign by the gutter press have also contributed to widespread public suspicion. Inevitably this climate of distrust has led to dispute, discrimination and confrontation, sometimes violent, and the marginalisation of those who have chosen this way of life outside of ‘normal’ society.
Faced with an ever increasing gap between rich and poor, widespread poverty and homelessness; the worst unemployment statistics in Europe; no minimum wage levels; spiralling crime figures; public disaffection with both their policies and the actual democratic process (the current Govt, was voted in by a smaller number than those who chose not to take part in the election) and accusations of corruption and hypocrisy at the highest levels; the Govt, solution has been to enact some of the most totalitarian legislation seen in modem English history, effectively criminalising the very existence of travelling people.
Such is the consequences of the Criminal Justice Act, that many young travellers have left England and have sought new homes in the more tolerant climes of France, Spain and Eire.
So it seems that this new generation of travellers have joined previous generations of traditional travellers as easy targets for bigotry and persecution. Referred to as ‘scum’, ‘vermin’, and ‘subhuman’, who ‘have no rights’ by press and politicians alike, the right-wing ruling regime have used them as easy scapegoats to enact sweeping new constitutional and legal powers which effect the civil and human rights of everybody in the UK. This is a bitter irony in the year which sees us celebrating the 50th anniversary of victory for the Allies in Europe.
With my photographs from the travelling community, I pledge to continue what I see as a long-term project documenting the culture of my people in their struggle for survival, as I believe that we have much to offer for the future of our country. If only those in power could see it.
- Photographer and Traveller.
Going Round In Circulars - The lip-service and reality of site provision, prejudice and planning. Jim Carey reports on the affect on travellers of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. Squall 10, Summer 1995.