Jane Hutt, Minister for Finance and Leader of the House
On 22 June I was pleased to be a keynote speaker at a symposium organized by Romani Arts to mark Gypsy, Roma, Traveller month 2012. This was one of a number of events which were held across Wales and which have an important role in raising the profile of this often misunderstood community. At the symposium I launched the easy-read version of the Welsh Government’s Framework for Actions for Gypsies and Travellers – ‘Travelling to a Better Future’.
‘Travelling to a Better Future’ was launched in September 2011 and there has been good progress made on its delivery. This was the first national Gypsy and Traveller strategic document in the UK. It sets out how the Welsh Government is addressing the inequalities faced by the community. It is a cross government Framework and other Ministers for housing, education and health all have key roles in its delivery.
The Framework for Action sets out key areas of concern including accommodation, health and education. Education can be a challenging experience for many Gypsy and Traveller children and young people and low numbers remain in secondary education. There are a number of reasons for this and it is something we are striving to address.
We are determined that Gypsy and Traveller children who want to stay at school to progress further, or move on to training, have every opportunity to do so. The Minister for Education and Skills has protected the Budget for this learner group and has increased the levels of support for them over the next two years. The annual Grant for the Education of Gypsy and Traveller Children has risen to £1 million in this financial year and is set to rise by 10% next year.
A range of other Welsh Government initiatives are aimed at meeting the objectives in ‘Travelling to a Better Future’. To combat any misconceptions about unauthorised absences from school, we have introduced attendance codes to denote when a child is travelling or registered with more than one educational facility. We have also advised local authorities that schools are obliged to enrol children in their catchment areas, no matter how brief their stay, to ensure that no child is denied access to an education.
We have commissioned a new resource for use in secondary schools across Wales which will celebrate Gypsy and Traveller heritage and culture and challenge negative misconceptions and stereotypes. It is very much hoped that this will reduce the marginalisation and bullying of Gypsy and Traveller children and young people by increasing awareness in the rest of the school population of their culture and lifestyle.
But if we are to tackle the inequalities facing the Gypsy and Traveller community, we need to do this from an early age. The Flying Start programme has a key role to play in providing support to families within Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Experience has shown that developing trusting relationships is extremely important if parents are to engage with Flying Start services.
Health professionals have built up trusting relationships with Gypsy and Roma families living both on site and in housing. This has led to a number of improvements including more children are taking up their nursery entitlement in local primary schools.
The provision of suitable accommodation is another key concern. Demand for permanent sites outweighs supply and we are currently seeing a situation where there are illegal encampments because there are not enough permanent sites. I have worked closely with Huw Lewis, the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage on this issue. The Housing White Paper he launched recently which will lead to a new Housing Law contains a proposal to introduce a duty on local authorities to provide sites where a need has been established.
We are continuing to work with local authorities where there are illegal encampments because of a lack of permanent sites. From 2011 we have made 100% funding of the Welsh Government capital grant available for new sites and the refurbishment of existing sites. This has resulted in an increase in applications from local authorities.
A secure place to live is the starting point for people to build their lives. We need to ensure that services are designed to protect those most vulnerable from losing their homes, including people with travelling lifestyles. The White Paper on housing will lead to a more inclusive framework of legislation to protect those most at risk of homelessness.
We intend to introduce legislation which will require local authorities to help people at risk of losing their homes to find solutions to their housing needs. It is vital that the cultural needs of people from ethnic minorities are considered when they are at risk of homelessness and need assistance, and that is why we need to improve access to good quality sites.
Roma families tend to use the private rented sector and we have introduced legislation to license larger, higher risk houses of multiple occupancy. We have given further commitments in the housing White Paper to take action to improve the private rented sector.
I know that more needs to be done to improve the security of tenure for Gypsies and Travellers living on local authority sites. In the Autumn we will be consulting on legislation to ensure that Gypsy and Traveller sites are legally classed as ‘protected sites’.
‘Travelling to a Better Future’ highlights the need to improve relationships between the settled community and the travelling community. The Community Cohesion Fund was in place for the three years until this March and resulted in projects which included an engagement project with Traveller families in Gwynedd, a report on the needs of the Roma community in Cardiff was funded through the Community Cohesion Fund and Roma advocacy and support posts in Cardiff.
In partnership with the Wales Migration Partnership, the Welsh Government will be holding a seminar in September to scope the key issues for the Roma community in Wales. This will be a useful first step to take an all Wales approach and to build on the good work that has already taken place in certain areas.
Finally I would like to highlight some of the good work being carried out for the travelling community by some of the projects funded by the Inclusion Grant. We are currently funding Platform 51 which is working with Gypsy and Traveller women in Llanelli, tackling a wide range of issues including domestic abuse.
I have recently agreed to fund the Save the Children ‘Travelling Ahead’ project for an additional year. This project provides a website for use by both the travelling community and professionals working in this area and has developed local, regional and national forums to enable Gypsy and Traveller young people to have their voices heard on the issues that concern them.
The Welsh Government is committed to greater equality and inclusion for all people in Wales including the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Welsh Ministers are also committed to children’s rights and from May 2012, Welsh Ministers have a duty to pay due regard to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child when developing any new policy or legislation, as set out in the Rights of Children and Young Person’s (Wales) Measure 2011.
The Strategic Equality Plan outlines how we will achieve this through eight equality objectives. Some of these have particular interest for the travelling community – for example strengthening advice, information and advocacy service; reducing the incidence of all forms of violence against women, domestic abuse, honour based violence, hate crime, bullying and elder abuse; putting the needs of services users at the heart of public services; addressing the causes of ethnic pay and employment differences and reducing the number of young people not in education, employment or training. Next year we will publish a Framework for Action on Hate Crime and we will be engaging with the Gypsy and Traveller community to ensure that we listen to their views on hate crime.
I welcome the cross-party group on Gypsies and Travellers and look forward to working together to improve conditions for Gypsies and Travellers across Wales.