Big Fat Lies – the Truth about Scottish Gypsy Travellers

Our Campaigns volunteer Jana Lopusna is in myth-busting mode to celebrate the United Nations International Day for Tolerance

Scottish Gypsy Travellers are subjected to misleading articles in the media and have even been called the last acceptable face of racism in modern Scotland. We take a look at some of the most quoted myths and stereotypes.

Travellers are thieves and criminals

In every community there are individuals who engage in criminal activity, but this should not be grounds for making sweeping assumptions – why should everyone be associated with anti-social or criminal behaviour?
Constantly referring to encampments as “illegal” only furthers the perception that travellers are to blame for everything that goes wrong in the neighbourhoods they live in.
The truth is simple. There is no evidence of higher crime rates or larger numbers of Scottish Gypsy Travellers in the prison population. However, ostracising Travellers from the Settled Community has the effect of pushing them to the margins of society and makes them more vulnerable to poverty and anti-social influences.
 
They leave rubbish everywhere and destroy the countryside
Humankind produces huge amounts of waste every day. In every community, there are people who are concerned about doing their part for a clean environment, and those who do not care.
 
It is too easy for some Scottish newspapers to cite“tons of rubbish and dirt” left behind by Scottish Gypsy Travellers in malicious reports which fuel the stereotype they destroy places they stay.
 
Here is a fact they tend to ignore: Even though site residents pay rent and taxes, they do not enjoy the same rights as people in settled housing. Many sites remain poorly serviced, lack proper sanitation, and waste disposal facilities which leaves residents living in squalid conditions they can do nothing to change.
 
However, there are also a number of sites which are very well managed and cared for by Travellers and local authorities but that doesn’t seem worth highlighting in the press.
 
And if we really want to talk rubbish – take a look at the debris of fast food and empty bottles left behind in our cities every weekend.
 
They set up illegal camps wherever they like
Scottish Gypsy Travellers do not seek out places to live where they are in poverty without access to basic facilities such as water, electricity, and sanitation. Lack of temporary and permanent sites leaves them with no place to go and pushes many families to resort to the only option available – unauthorised encampments. Those then fan the flames of an already tense relationship between Travellers and the settled community resulting in stress and evictions.  
 
Everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are also entitled to culturally appropriate housing that matches their lifestyle.
 
They are all benefits scroungers
                                                                                                   
Travellers are often labelled as workshy and profiting from the welfare system. In reality, discrimination is often the main barrier preventing Scottish Gypsy Travellers from mainstream job opportunities. Having an address which is clearly a Traveller site often locks residents out of employment and access to services.
 
Despite poor living conditions and exclusion from services and healthcare, many Scottish Gypsy Travellers earn their living in service industries such as roofing and construction – and pay their taxes –  despite the perception that they work cash in hand, “stealing” jobs from local communities.
 
Shameful statements which suggest that “refusing work offers would drive out Travellers” encourage further marginalisation and are a direct contradiction to an inclusive and tolerant society.
 
Travellers have caused me trouble
 
Often, people who assume Travellers are trouble have never even met a Scottish Gypsy Traveller. Due to the lack of interaction between the communities, the media is often the only source of information. Sadly, many journalists are passionate about pursuing negative portrayals of Travellers.
 
Similarly, local political figures often take a populist approach, preferring to gain votes by backing opposition towards Scottish Gypsy Travellers.
 
The United Nations International Day for Tolerance on 16 November gives us an opportunity to question our prejudices and remember we are all equal in dignity and rights and deserve to be respected no matter what our choices are.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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