Sites for Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland are unsafe health hazards with poor amenities despite requirements set out in 2013 for councils to ensure basic standards are met to improve living conditions.
A new Scottish Government report called Improving Gypsy/Traveller Sites, highlights significant failings by several councils prompting critics to express “deep concern” amid fresh calls for urgent action to be taken.
Only two sites out of 26 – Angus and Falkirk – met all the requirements set out in 2013, with the report saying that 14 sites did not meet safety and security standards.
The report said some “fairly significant safety issues” were found including a lack of carbon monoxide detectors, heat detectors and smoke alarms.
“A number of site providers were not fully meeting this indicator. The sites in Aberdeenshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Fife and West Dunbartonshire did not have smoke or heat alarms at the time of the review,” the report said.
The Scottish Government says that sites should be “safe and secure” and has urged site providers to fit smoke alarms as a “matter of urgency”.
Other issues identified included problems with walls, roofs, dampness and subsidence, meaning that some pitches were out of use.
The report said: “At Banff in Aberdeenshire significant capital investment is required to bring the blocks up to standard. At Collin in Dumfries and Galloway the Council told us that the blocks currently keep out water but as there is subsidence on the site there is evidence of structural problems. A number of pitches are currently out of use because of the subsidence issues.”
Another standard required is that tenants should be treated fairly and with dignity by site operators, but the report said that some Travellers claimed they still suffered poor treatment.
“Some residents at Angus, Collin in Dumfries and Galloway, Edinburgh, Inverness in Highland, Tarvitmill in Fife and West Dunbartonshire told us they did not feel that they were treated fairly and with respect by the site provider,” the report said.
“Some told us that while they were treated fairly and with respect by the site manager this was not true for the Council overall. Residents on some sites also felt that rent paid for pitches did not provide value for money with some rents higher than what you would pay for social housing in the area.”
In reply to the report, Judith Robertson, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said that Scottish Gypsy/Travellers “too often face significant barriers” when it comes to accessing their human rights, “particularly their rights to health, education, housing and employment as this report partly gives testament to”.
She added: “The commission welcomes the Scottish Government’s establishment of a ministerial working group as an important step. However, we remain deeply concerned about the human rights issues highlighted in this report in relation to site safety and general living standards, which require urgent and immediate action.”
Davie Donaldson, a Scottish Traveller activist and spokesperson, said he welcomed the report from the Scottish Government and hoped it would improve conditions.
He added: “However I am also sceptical, the report portrays the lack of culturally appropriate accommodation for Gypsy/Travellers and the sub-standard condition of accommodation that does exist. This is not new information. Community members and inquiries have told local authorities and consecutive governments that there is a dire need for suitable accommodation for Gypsy/Travellers.
“Our hope is that the renewed commitment from the Scottish Government isn’t simply well-meaning rhetoric – but rather that it indicates a much stronger action for positive change. My community have seen many reports and inquiries; let’s hope that this one carries with it a change.”
Lynn Welsh, Head of Legal for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland urged the Scottish Housing Regulator to take action against all councils that fail meet “tolerable standards” by the end of July 2018.
The report lists a catalogue of failures – tenants forced to live on sites with no smoke or carbon monoxide alarms, subsidence and damp, and poor lighting and inadequate traffic calming which endangers children’s lives Lynne Welsh, Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland
She added: “The Scottish Government gave all local authorities three years to bring their sites up to minimum tolerable standards, a very generous timescale. The fact that many have not been able to demonstrate full compliance with these minimum standards is worrying.
“The report lists a catalogue of failures – tenants forced to live on sites with no smoke or carbon monoxide alarms, subsidence and damp, and poor lighting and inadequate traffic calming which endangers children’s lives.
“Whilst we welcome the action that the government has taken for too many Gypsy/ Travellers too many are still living on poor quality sites. They pay the same rents as council house tenants – they must be afforded the same quality of accommodation.”
Aberdeenshire Council’s Head of Housing, Rob Simpson, said: “Aberdeenshire Council is committed to meeting the standards for local authority run Gypsy/Traveller sites set by the Scottish Government and our newest stopover site, at Aikey Brae, meets all of these.
“Essential repairs and maintenance were carried out at our Greenbanks site in Banff ahead of the 2018 season which included fitting smoke, carbon dioxide and heat detectors in chalet blocks. Further upgrades are planned to be carried out for after the season in order to fully comply with the standards.”
Paul Short, of Fife Council, said: “We work hard to ensure everyone in Fife has accommodation of a good standard, including Gypsy/Travellers. Fife Council is making good progress in implementing the Scottish Government’s standards across the three Fife sites. We are currently upgrading the amenity blocks at Heatherywood Site at Thornton, and plan similar upgrading at the other two Fife Council sites at Tarvit Mill, Cupar & Thorntonwood Kelty.”
In 2013, the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee (EOC) published a report – Where Gypsy/Travellers Live – which made a number of recommendations to improve Gypsy/Traveller site provision in Scotland.
The Gypsy/Traveller Site Working Group was formed in 2014, which provided the Scottish Government with expert advice and discussed ways of addressing some of the issues raised by the EOC.
They detailed the minimum standards expected and set out the Scottish Government’s expectation that all sites should meet the new requirements by June 2018.
This story was updated at 10.49am on 28th May 2018 when the above comment from Fife Council was added.