Dale Farm travellers’ community in Basildon, Essex has been fighting a battle against eviction by District Council for the past ten years. From the end of August they could face the bailiffs.
The momentum of the current attacks on the travelling community stems from racism towards gypsies in towns like Basildon — reflected in the council’s willingness to spend £18 million on this eviction in a period of austerity and cuts, but nothing on providing alternative sites.
Some of the cash for the eviction has come from the government but the bulk is being funded by the council. It’s a case of make cuts to save money, but keep the gypsies out whatever the cost!
Dale Farm is the largest travellers’ community in the UK, housing 1,000 people. Dale Farm residents own the land but on around 40% of the site, (54 of the plots), planning permission has been refused. These residents on these “illegal” plots face eviction. Around 90 families will be affected.
Basildon Council argues the site is built on greenbelt land, yet has built several industrial sites in the area which are used for scrap disposal and storage.
Dale Farm has existed since the 1970s, and many of the plots have bungalows built on them, including fences and walls to separate the plots. Many of the children have attended the local school. If they are evicted, access to schools and GPs will become very difficult.
New Labour’s 2004 Housing Act made some recognition of travellers’ rights to housing, providing Gypsy and Traveller Site Grants to local authorities to pay for travellers’ sites, and regional supervision to ensure that they did. But the policy was not enforced and local councils continued to block planning permission for travellers or failed to provide adequate sites.
The Coalition’s “Planning for Travellers’ Sites Policy” plans to scrap Labour’s limited provisions, and gives local authorities more power to remove illegal settlements. Councils are not required to find money to support travellers and local authorities have no obligation to find sites.
Eric Pickles, minister for Communities and Local Government, argued that local authorities are “best placed to know the needs of their communities”. Yet racism in the local community towards travellers is strong — all non-traveller pupils left Crays Hill Primary School once gypsy children became the majority.
The Gypsy Council, which represents travellers internationally, has argued that “institutional racism” exists “in the way the planning system works against us to refuse and restrict planning permission”. They say applications fail at the consultation stage.
There are 300,000 gypsies and travellers currently living in Britain in houses and caravans, and roughly 20% of those are living on land illegally.
A 2007 Department of Communities and Local Government survey concluded that travellers’ life expectancy is 10-12 years below the national average, 18% of mothers experience the death of a child in their lifetime, 62% of adults are illiterate, and 25% of children are not enrolled in education.
This eviction takes place against a backdrop of broader attacks.
New legislation will further criminalise trespass and legal aid will be refused to those accused of trespass. This would effectively deny squatters, travellers and demonstrators the ability to enter any property without permission of the owner or the local authority. Travellers who are occupying land illegally will be affected. Anyone refusing to leave could be immediately forcibly removed by the police. Property owners could also issue injunctions not just against the person re-entering their property, but on any property they are likely to enter having been moved on.
The ideology behind this is clear: if you don’t own it — get off it!
The most vulnerable travellers will be forced, with the rest of the homeless and impoverished, into council housing that is dilapidated, overcrowded, in increasing short supply.
It is a bold move to push the non-propertied classes further into the gutter.
There is nothing inherently sacred about living in a caravan, or moving around the country in a way that makes access to education and healthcare very difficult. But such insularity, leading to a lack of education, would help maintain such things as misogyny, homophobia or religious bigotry in any community. It is decades of racist bullying that have impeded the ability of travellers to access education, build relationships with wider society, and control their own lives.
Dale Farm desperately needs working-class solidarity to protect itself. Imagine a PCS strike in the local council, or an NUJ strike against anti-gypsy racism in the press. But failing that it needs a physical presence of solidarity to argue the case for travellers’ rights and to blockade the site from bailiffs.
The Save Dale Farm campaign calls for supporters to join Camp Constant; a group of tents occupying the site until eviction day.
It has gained support from campaigns No One Is Illegal, Feminist Fightback, Campaign to Close Campsfield, Oxford and District Trades Council and others. The action so far has included the erection of a scaffolding “barrier” and a call for eviction training, and human rights monitoring on the weekend of 27-28 August at the camp.
There will also be a march against the eviction on 10 September 10.
Organisers want to hold back the bailiffs long enough to allow a final appeal to a high court judge to stop the eviction.
Get involved in the anti-eviction campaign. Contact: