Gypsy and Traveller communities

One way to understand the impact of inequalities is to look at how social exclusion impacts on a specific group. You can discover the issues affecting Gypsy and Traveller communities in the overview below.  


Who are they?

Gypsy and Traveller communities include Gypsies, Irish and Scottish Travellers and other groups such as new Travellers. While Gypsies and Traveller's share travelling lifestyles, each community within this classification has its own distinct culture. 

Romani and Roma Gypsies and Irish Travellers are recognised as groups that have distinct traditions. Other groups are recognised as Travellers through their patterns of movement, such as fairground and circus families and new Travellers. They too have their own history and hopes for the future.

However legal recognition for the ethnic minority status of these various groups has differed across the UK. Case law established Gypsies as a recognised ethnic group in England in 1989 (Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton) and Irish Travellers, already protected by race relations law in Northern Ireland, were recognised as a distinct ethnic group in England and Wales in 2000 (O'Leary v Allied Domecq). In October 2008 K MacLennan v Gypsy Traveller Education and Information Project (Scottish Government, 2009) led to a landmark ruling that Scottish Gypsy/Travellers are a distinct ethnic group bringing them within the protection of the Race Relations Act.  In Wales the Welsh Assembly Government has a general duty to ensure equality of opportunity for all people without reference to membership of specific groups.

The precise numbers of Gypsies and Travellers within the United Kingdom are unknown. The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) made an estimate in 2006 that there are between 270 and 360,000 Gypsies and Travellers in England alone living in bricks and mortar housing, around three times the number maintaining a nomadic lifestyle (Commission for Racial Equality 2006). The populations of Gypsies and Travellers in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are much smaller. The July 2009 Gypsy and Traveller count in Scotland found a population of around 2,120 (Scottish Government Social Research 2010) and in Wales it is around 2,000 (Equality and Human Rights Commission 2009).

How are they affected by social exclusion?

"In many ways accommodation is the key to understanding the inequalities and barriers to service access experienced by Gypsies and Travellers ... access to appropriate accommodation (whether on sites or in housing) is fundamental to enabling people to avail themselves of the health, education and other public services which exist in twentyfirst century Britain" (Cemlyn 2009, p.5).

In England new planning policy for Traveller sites has been published giving Local Planning Authorities the responsibility for making their own assessment of accommodation needs for Gypsies and Travellers and with the overarching aim “to ensure fair and equal treatment for travellers, in a way that facilitates the traditional and nomadic way of life of travellers while respecting the interests of the settled community” ( Department for Communities and Local Government 2012, p. 1). Similar guidance is provided in other UK countries and identified in the policy and guidance pages of this resource.

In Scotland a series of twice yearly counts of the Gypsy and traveller population was introduced to inform the development of public policies and services for Gypsies and Travellers. The last count was done in July 2009. Amnesty International made a series of recommendations in their 2012 report focussing on local authority housing provision for Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland and voiced their disappointment “that some local authorities have made very slow progress in the 11 years since the Equal Opportunities Committee’s report on this community group” (Amnesty International 2012a, p.14). The report also highlights the need to learn from the examples of good practice that are identified. The Equal Opportunities Committee was already in the process of reviewing progress made against their earlier report and has published a summary of evidence received around accommodation (Scottish Parliament 2013).

The impact that this variable provision of accommodation, and what can often be poor living conditions, has on health and wellbeing is demonstrated in a number of ways. A report published in 2004 showed Gypsy and Traveller communities are the most at risk health group in the UK with the lowest life expectancy and the highest child mortality rate (University of Sheffield 2004).  Persistent inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils are evidenced in continued lower academic attainment (National Literacy Trust 2011) and research has been dedicated to exploring the issues that impact on educational outcomes (Department for Education 2009).  

A research study, published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2009, presents evidence of Gypsies' and Travellers' experiences of inequalities in a wide range of areas and has highlighted "the extent to which many of their experiences remain invisible and ignored within wider agendas" (Cemlyn et al 2009, p.252). The report covers the experiences of Gypsies and Travellers in England, Scotland and Wales.

Gypsies and Travellers were highlighted as the minority group about which people felt least positively in a survey profiling the nature of prejudice in England (Stonewall 2003). Media reporting of stories about Gypsies and Travellers have usually reinforced negative stereotypes, a situation exacerbated by figures of authority (Power 2004, Commission for Racial Equality 2006). In their media analysis, Amnesty International in Scotland found a disproportionate amount of scrutiny of Scottish Gypsy Travellers in the Scottish media (Amnesty International 2012b). Nurses have an important role in challenging the prejudices faced by Gypsy and Traveller communities (Van Cleemput 2010). 

What is being done?

Options to improve access and services to Gypsies and Travellers include:

  • working in partnership with Gypsy and Traveller communities in delivery and commissioning of services
  • more flexible and imaginative ways of taking services to these communities
  • improving cultural competence of health service staff
  • better coverage of Gypsies and Travellers in NHS ethnic monitoring.


The items in this reference list are available online. They were last accessed on 18 March 2015. Some of them are in PDF format - see how to access PDF files.

Amnesty International (2012a) On the margins: Local authority provision for Scottish Gypsy Travellers (PDF 338.2KB), Edinburgh: Amnesty International. See also Amnesty Scotland launches Scottish Gypsy Traveller reports.

Amnesty International (2012b) Caught in the headlines: Scottish media coverage of Scottish Gypsy Travellers (PDF 282.4KB), Edinburgh: Amnesty International.

Cemlyn S et al (2009) Inequalities experienced by Gypsy and Traveller Communities: a review (PDF 1.19MB), (Research report 12). London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Commission for Racial Equality v Dutton (1989) 1 All ER 306.

Commission for Racial Equality (2006) Common ground. Equality, good relations and sites for Gypsies and Irish Travellers. Report of a CRE inquiry in England and Wales, London: CRE.

Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, London: Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI).

Department for Communities and Local Government (2012) Policy paper: Planning policy for traveller sites, London: Communities and Local Government, made available  on the GOV.UK website. 

Department for Education (2009) Improving the outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils: final report, Runcorn: Department for Education.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (2009) Gypsies and Travellers: simple solutions for living together, London: Equality and Human Rights Commission.

National Literacy Trust (2011) Literacy news: the Equality Strategy, National Literacy Trust website.

O'Leary v Allied Domecq (2000) Central London County Court No CL950275-79 29 August.

Power C, Dr (2004) Room to roam: England's Irish Travellers, Funded by the Community Fund and published by a consortium led by the Action Group for Irish Youth. Made available on the Statewatch website.

Scottish Government Social Research (2010) Gypsies/Travellers in Scotland: the twice yearly count No.16 July 2009. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government (2009) Ethnic status. Scottish Government website. 

Scottish Parliament (2013) Where Gypsy/Travellers live. Scottish Parliament website.

Stonewall (2003) Profiles of prejudice: detailed summary of findings (Word 77KB), London: Stonewall.

University of Sheffield (2004) The health status of Gypsies and Travellers in England: a report to the Department of Health, Sheffield: University of Sheffield ScHARR.

Van Cleemput P. (2010) Social exclusion of Gypsies and Travellers: health impact. Journal of Research in Nursing, 15(4) July, pp.315-327.