12 months ago, the above site was big news in Britain. Dale Farm, neat Basildon had been the site of decades of legal battles over the use of land owned by Travelling people from a Romany background. It formed a tight well organised community of families from an ethnic group of people whose traditional way of life has been increasingly squeezed within UK society.
The local Basildon council spent £7.2 million evicting families from the empty half of the site above. They say they did it to uphold planning laws, and in response to wider community concerns about criminality, noise and unhygienic conditions.
Today a Parliamentary report has been made public investigating the effects of the traumatic eviction. This from the Guardian;
Scores of Travellers removed from the Dale Farm site near Basildon in Essex 12 months ago have suffered mental or physical illness after being forced to live in “squalor” following the controversial eviction, according to a report by MPs.
It said: “The delegation found that many of the residents are highly vulnerable and have serious conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, dementia, osteoporosis, Crohn’s disease, bowel cancer, Down’s syndrome etc.
“Members of the Red Cross again stated their continued concerns regarding the physical and mental health of the Travellers, lack of sanitation and the possible health threats posed by the evicted site.”
Issues like this divide opinion. For some, the Travellers had it coming to them. Their lifestyle is unsustainable, morally bankrupt and an insult to hard working people. The conditions that they find themselves are due to choices they have made. Such opinions would usually be accompanied by stories of some encounter with a travelling group squatting in filth on a roadside verge, or doing some poor tarmac work on the driveway of a pensioner.
There is another story here however- a cautionary tale of what happens to marginalised groups in the face of prejudice, stigma and scape goating. This kind of poverty is brutal, and we should not be surprised that it also brutalises.
Neither should we be surprised that such marginalisation and social exclusions results in poor mental and physical health.
Dale Farm is a stain on who we are and I hope may yet be the point when things turn for the better for travelling folk in the country. Perhaps the point at which we start to seek to understand the other rather than condemn them for not being like us.
I posted this previously, as a reminder of the rich traditions of the Romany people in these islands;