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Difference Between Gypsies and Travellers

• Categorized under Miscellaneous | Difference Between Gypsies and Travellers


Gypsies and Travelers are distinct groupings of wandering people. Both groups are generally considered as nomadic societies that travel from one place to another. For most people, Gypsies and Travellers are one and the same. However, the two groups are totally different from one another.

First of all, the origins of Gypsies and Travelers differ from one another. Experts believed that the Gypsies have Hindu origins. Early Europeans thought that the Gypsy people came from Egypt. On the other hand, the Travellers can trace their origins from a sub-society in Ireland. So it is very common to refer to Travellers as Irish Travelers.

The languages of Gypsies and Travelers are also different. The Gypsy people have a unique language which is closely related to the dialects of the Northern Indian subcontinent. Over the centuries, several Gypsy societies arose and also developed their own distinct languages.

On the other hand, the Travellers speak a common language called Shelta. Among different Traveller groupings, two dialects are spoken. These are the Gamin and Cant dialects.

Large concentrations of Gypsies can be found across Eastern Europe and parts of Germany. Gypsy societies abound in Albania and Hungary. Meanwhile Travellers are fairly concentrated in Ireland, United Kingdom, and some parts of Northern America.

In terms of physical profile, the Travellers look like the general population of Ireland. They have fair skin but some groupings look like Caucasians. In contrast, the Gypsies have oriental looks. They have darker skin than the Travellers and they resemble the physical profiles of the peoples of India and Egypt.

Gypsies and Travellers are two distinct societies. While both are nomadic peoples, the two societies have totally different origins, culture, language, and physical profile. The Gypsies are generally found in Eastern Europe while the Travellers usually walk inside the territories of Ireland, UK, and the Americas.

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Cite APA 7 , . (2009, October 25). Difference Between Gypsies and Travellers. Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects. http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-gypsies-and-travellers/. MLA 8 , . "Difference Between Gypsies and Travellers." Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects, 25 October, 2009, http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-gypsies-and-travellers/.

Reminder G*pay is a slur and if you are not Romani, do not say it and Travellers are not Romani

I suspect I am from Irish travellers somewhere in my family ancestry. I have been brought up knowing certain traditions and superstitions and adhering to them. I have now discovered these pass down Irish travelling communities as well as other ways of doing things. How can I confirm this and/or further educate myself. I’ll be very sad if its not the case but these traditions cannot be lost or faded out. They are so special. Any advice or guidance welcome

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Written by : Mabelle. and updated on 2009, October 25 Articles on DifferenceBetween.net are general information, and are not intended to substitute for professional advice. The information is "AS IS", "WITH ALL FAULTS". User assumes all risk of use, damage, or injury. You agree that we have no liability for any damages.


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Definitions of Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople

Gypsies and travellers.

For planning purposes Gypsies and Travellers are defined as:

Within the main definition are a number of cultural groups, including:

  • Romany gypsies
  • Irish Travellers and
  • New Travellers

Romany Gypsies and Irish travellers are recognised in law as distinct ethnic groups and legally protected from discrimination under the Equalities Act 2010.

We try to avoid generalisation and stereotyping but for ease of working we often see Gypsies or Irish Travellers as those with modern, good quality vehicles who visit mainly urban areas to ply their various trades. They are often highly mobile and stay for relatively short periods of time. However some do stay longer when they can find a site to use as a base.

'New' or 'New Age' Travellers may be recognised by the assortment of vehicles in which they live. They may travel in search of seasonal employment or summer festivals but will usually want to stay on a site for a long period of time while their children attend local schools or while they repair their vehicles. They often have limited resources so moving from site to site can be a problem for them. There are now children of these families born on the road with no experience of house-dwelling.

All travellers, including New Travellers, have their right to roam protected by Human Rights Legislation, by the Housing Act 2004, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and the Children's Act 2004.

Travelling Showpeople

Travelling Showpeople are defined as:

Although their work is of a mobile nature, Showpeople nevertheless require secure, permanent bases for the storage and repair of their equipment and to live when not on the road. In recent years many Showpeople have had to leave traditional sites, which have been displaced by other forms of development.

Many Showpeople are members of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain and are required by the Guild to follow a strict code of practice regulating the use of their sites. Membership of the Guild provides Showpeople with exemption from the site licensing requirements of the Caravan Sites and Control of Development Act 1960 when they are travelling for the purpose of their business, or where they only occupy quarters for a period between the beginning of October and the end of March in the following year.

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  • Ethnicity facts and figures homepage Home

Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller ethnicity summary

Updated 29 March 2022

1. About this page

2. the gypsy, roma and traveller group, 3. classifications, 4. improving data availability and quality, 5. population data, 6. education data, 7. economic activity and employment data.

  • 8. Home ownership data data
  • 9. Health data

This is a summary of statistics about people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnic groups living in England and Wales.

It is part of a series of summaries about different ethnic groups .

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) is a term used to describe people from a range of ethnicities who are believed to face similar challenges. These groups are distinct, but are often reported together.

This page includes:

  • information about GRT data and its reliability
  • some statistics from the 2011 Census
  • other statistics on the experiences of people from the GRT groups in topics including education, housing and health

This is an overview based on a selection of data published on Ethnicity facts and figures or analyses of other sources. Some published data (for example, on higher education) is only available for the aggregated White ethnic group, and is not included here.

Through this report, we sometimes make comparisons with national averages. While in other reports we might compare with another ethnic group (usually White British), we have made this decision here because of the relatively small impact the GRT group has on the overall national average.

The term Gypsy, Roma and Traveller has been used to describe a range of ethnic groups or people with nomadic ways of life who are not from a specific ethnicity.

In the UK, it is common in data collections to differentiate between:

  • Gypsies (including English Gypsies, Scottish Gypsies or Travellers, Welsh Gypsies and other Romany people)
  • Irish Travellers (who have specific Irish roots)
  • Roma, understood to be more recent migrants from Central and Eastern Europe

The term Traveller can also encompass groups that travel. This includes, but is not limited to, New Travellers, Boaters, Bargees and Showpeople. (See the House of Commons Committee report on Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities .)

For the first time, the 2011 Census ethnic group question included a tick box for the ethnic group ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’. This was not intended for people who identify as Roma because they are a distinct group with different needs to Gypsy or Irish Travellers.

The 2021 Census had a ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ category, and a new ‘Roma’ category.

A 2018 YouGov poll found that 66% of people in the UK wrongly viewed GRT not to be an ethnic group, with many mistaking them as a single group (PDF). It is therefore important that GRT communities are categorised correctly on data forms, using separate tick boxes when possible to reflect this.

The 2011 Census figures used in this report and on Ethnicity facts and figures are based on respondents who chose to identify with the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group. People who chose to write in Roma as their ethnicity were allocated to the White Other group, and data for them is not included here. Other data, such as that from the Department for Education, includes Roma as a category combined with Gypsy, with Irish Traveller shown separately.

The commentary in this report uses the specific classifications in each dataset. Users should exercise caution when comparing different datasets, for example between education data (which uses Gypsy/Roma, and Irish Traveller in 2 separate categories) and the Census (which uses Gypsy and Irish Traveller together, but excludes data for people who identify as Roma).

Finally, it should be noted that there is also a distinction that the government makes, for the purposes of planning policy, between those who travel and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnicities. The Department for Communities and Local Government (at the time, now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) planning policy for traveller sites (PDF) defines "gypsies and travellers" as:

"Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependants’ educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily, but excluding members of an organised group of travelling showpeople or circus people travelling together as such."

This definition for planning purposes includes any person with a nomadic habit, whether or not they might have identified as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller in a data collection.

The April 2019 House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee report on inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities noted that there was a lack of data on these groups.

The next section highlights some of the problems associated with collecting data on these groups, and what is available. Some of the points made about surveys, sample sizes and administrative data are generally applicable to any group with a small population.

Improving data for the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller populations, as well as other under-represented groups in the population is part of the recommendations in the Inclusive Data Taskforce report and the key activities described in the ONS response to them. For example, in response to recommendation 3 of the report, ONS, RDU and others will "build on existing work and develop new collaborative initiatives and action plans to improve inclusion of under-represented population groups in UK data in partnership with others across government and more widely".

Also, the ONS response to recommendation 4 notes the development of a range of strategies to improve the UK data infrastructure and fill data gaps to provide more granular data through new or boosted surveys and data linkage. Recommendation 6 notes that research will be undertaken using innovative methods best suited to the research question and prospective participants, to understand more about the lived experiences of several groups under-represented in UK data and evidence, such as people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups.

4.1 Classifications

In some data collections, the option for people to identify as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller is not available. Any data grouped to the 5 aggregated ethnic groups does not show the groups separately. Data based on the 2001 Census does not show them separately as there was no category for people identifying as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller. As part of our Quality Improvement Plan, the Race Disparity Unit (RDU) has committed to working with government departments to maintain a harmonised approach to collecting data about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people using the GSS harmonised classification. The harmonised classification is currently based on the 2011 Census, and an update is currently being considered by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In particular, RDU has identified working with DHSC and NHS Digital colleagues as a priority – the NHS classification is based on 2001 Census classifications and does not capture information on any of the GRT groups separately (they were categorised as White Other in the 2001 Census). Some of these issues have been outlined in the quarterly reports on progress to address COVID-19 health inequalities .

Research into how similar or different the aggregate ethnic groups are shows how many datasets are available for the GRT group.

Further information on the importance of harmonisation is also available.

4.2 Census data

A main source of data on the Gypsy and Irish Traveller groups is the 2011 Census. This will be replaced by the 2021 Census when results are published by the ONS. The statistics in this summary use information from Ethnicity facts and figures and the Census section of ONS’s NOMIS website.

4.3 Survey data

It is often difficult to conclude at any one point in time whether a disparity is significant for the GRT population, as the population is so small in comparison to other ethnic groups.

Even a large sample survey like the Annual Population Survey (APS) has a small number of responses from the Gypsy and Irish Traveller ethnic group each year. Analysis of 3 years of combined data for 2016, 2017 and 2018 showed there were 62 people in the sample (out of around 500,000 sampled cases in total over those 3 years) in England and Wales. Another large survey, the Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey, recorded 58 people identifying as Gypsy or Traveller out of 157,000 people surveyed between 2011 and 2019.

Small sample sizes need not be a barrier to presenting data if confidence intervals are provided to help the user. But smaller sample sizes will mean wider confidence intervals, and these will provide limited analytical value. For the 2016 to 2018 APS dataset – and using the standard error approximation method given in the LFS User Guide volume 6 with a fixed design factor of 1.6 (the formula is 1.6 * √p(1 − p)/n where p is the proportion in employment and n is the sample size.) – the employment rate of 35% for working age people in the Gypsy and Traveller group in England and Wales would be between 16% and 54% (based on a 95% confidence interval). This uses the same methodology as the ONS’s Sampling variability estimates for labour market status by ethnicity .

A further reason for smaller sample sizes might be lower response rates. The Women and Select Committee report on the inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities noted that people in these groups may be reluctant to self-identify, even where the option is available to them. This is because Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people might mistrust the intent behind data collection.

The RDU recently published a method and quality report on working out significant differences between estimates for small groups using different analytical techniques.

4.4 Administrative data

While administrative data does not suffer from the same issues of sampling variability, small numbers of respondents can mean that data is either disclosive and needs to be suppressed to protect the identity of individuals, or results can fluctuate over time.

An example of this is the measure of students getting 3 A grades or better at A level . In 2019 to 2020, no Irish Traveller students achieved this (there were 6 students in the cohort). In 2017 to 2018, 2 out of 7 Irish Traveller students achieved 3 A grades, or 28.6% – the highest percentage of all ethnic groups.

Aggregating time periods might help with this, although data collected in administrative datasets can change over time to reflect the information that needs to be collected for the administrative process. The data collected would not necessarily be governed by trying to maintain a consistent time series in the same way that data collected through surveys sometimes are.

4.5 Data linkage

Linking datasets together provides a way of producing more robust data for the GRT groups, or in fact, any ethnic group. This might improve the quality of the ethnicity coding in the dataset being analysed if an ethnicity classification that is known to be more reliable is linked from another dataset.

Data linkage does not always increase the sample size or the number of records available in the dataset to be analysed, but it might do if records that have missing ethnicity are replaced by a known ethnicity classification from a linked dataset.

An example is the linking of the Census data to Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data and death registrations by the ONS. The ethnicity classifications for GRT groups are not included in the HES data, and are not collected in the death registrations process at the moment. So this data linking gives a way to provide some information for Gypsy and Irish Travellers and other smaller groups. The report with data up to 15 May 2020 noted 16 Gypsy or Irish Traveller deaths from COVID-19.

RDU will be working with ONS and others to explore the potential for using data linking to get more information for the GRT groups.

4.6 Bespoke surveys and sample boosts

A country-wide, or even local authority, boost of a sample survey is unlikely to make estimates for the GRT groups substantially more robust. This is because of the relatively small number in the groups to begin with.

Bespoke surveys can be used to get specific information about these groups. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities list of traveller sites available through their Traveller caravan count statistics can help target sampling for surveys, for example. Bespoke surveys might be limited in geographical coverage, and more suitable for understanding GRT views in a local area and then developing local policy responses. An example of a bespoke survey is the Roma and Travellers in 6 countries survey .

Another method that could be useful is snowball sampling. Snowball sampling (or chain-referral sampling) is a sampling technique in which the respondents have traits that are rare to find. In snowball sampling, existing survey respondents provide referrals to recruit further people for the survey, which helps the survey grow larger.

There are advantages to snowball sampling. It can target hidden or difficult to reach populations. It can be a good way to sample hesitant respondents, as a person might be more likely to participate in a survey if they have been referred by a friend or family member. It can also be quick and cost effective. Snowball sampling may also be facilitated with a GRT community lead or cultural mediator. This would help bridge the gap between the GRT communities and the commissioning department to encourage respondent participation.

However, one statistical disadvantage is that the sampling is non-random. This reduces the knowledge of whether the sample is representative, and can invalidate some of the usual statistical tests for statistical significance, for example.

All data in this section comes from the 2011 Census of England and Wales, unless stated otherwise.

In 2011, there were 57,680 people from the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group in England and Wales, making up 0.1% of the total population. In terms of population, it is the smallest of the 18 groups used in the 2011 Census.

Further ONS analysis of write-in responses in the Census estimated the Roma population as 730, and 1,712 people as Gypsy/Romany.

Table A: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller write-in ethnicity responses on the 2011 Census

Source: Census - Ethnic group (write-in response) Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, GypsyRomany - national to county (ONS). The figures do not add to the 57,680 classified as White: Gypsy/Traveller because Roma is included as White Other, and some people in the other categories shown will have classified themselves in an ethnic group other than White.

An ONS report in 2014 noted that variations in the definitions used for this ethnic group has made comparisons between estimates difficult. For example, some previous estimates for Gypsy or Irish Travellers have included Roma or have been derived from counts of caravans rather than people's own self-identity. It noted that other sources of data estimate the UK’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population to be in the region of 150,000 to 300,000 , or as high as 500,000 (PDF).

5.1 Where Gypsy and Irish Traveller people live

There were 348 local authorities in England and Wales in 2011. The Gypsy or Irish Traveller population was evenly spread throughout them. The 10 local authorities with the largest Gypsy or Irish Traveller populations constituted 11.9% of the total population.

Figure 1: Percentage of the Gypsy or Irish Traveller population of England and Wales living in each local authority area (top 10 areas labelled)

Basildon was home to the largest Gypsy or Irish Traveller population, with 1.5% of all Gypsy or Irish Traveller people living there, followed by Maidstone (also 1.5%, although it had a smaller population).

Table 1: Percentage of the Gypsy or Irish Traveller population of England and Wales living in each local authority area (top 10)

28 local authorities had fewer than 20 Gypsy or Irish Traveller residents each. This is around 1 in 12 of all local authorities.

11.7% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people lived in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods , higher than the national average of 9.9% (England, 2019 Indices of Multiple Deprivation).

81.6% of people from the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group were born in England, and 6.1% in the other countries of the UK. 3.0% were born in Ireland and 8.3% were born somewhere else in Europe (other than the UK and Ireland). Less than 1.0% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were born outside of Europe.

5.2 Age profile

The Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group had a younger age profile than the national average in England and Wales in 2011.

People aged under 18 made up over a third (36%) of the Gypsy or Irish Traveller population, higher than the national average of 21%.

18.0% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were aged 50 and above , lower than the national average of 35.0%.

Figure 2: Age profile of Gypsy or Irish Traveller and the England and Wales average

Table 2: age profile of gypsy or irish traveller and the england and wales average, 5.3 families and households.

20.4% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households were made up of lone parents with dependent children , compared with 7.2% on average for England and Wales.

Across all household types, 44.9% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households had dependent children, compared with an average of 29.1%.

8.4% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households were made up of pensioners (either couples, single pensioners, or other households where everyone was aged 65 and over), compared with 20.9% on average.

All data in this section covers pupil performance in state-funded mainstream schools in England.

At all key stages, Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller pupils’ attainment was below the national average.

Figure 3: Educational attainment among Gypsy, Roma, Irish Traveller and pupils from all ethnic groups

Table 3: educational attainment among gypsy, roma, irish traveller and pupils from all ethnic groups.

Source: England, Key Stage 2 Statistics, 2018/19; Key Stage 4 Statistics, 2019/20; and A Level and other 16 to 18 results, 2020/21. Ethnicity facts and figures and Department for Education (DfE). Figures for Key Stage 2 are rounded to whole numbers by DfE.

6.1 Primary education

In the 2018 to 2019 school year, 19% of White Gypsy or Roma pupils, and 26% of Irish Traveller pupils met the expected standard in key stage 2 reading, writing and maths . These were the 2 lowest percentages out of all ethnic groups.

6.2 Secondary education

In the 2019 to 2020 school year, 8.1% of White Gypsy or Roma pupils in state-funded schools in England got a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and maths, the lowest percentage of all ethnic groups.

Gypsy or Roma (58%) and Irish Traveller (59%) pupils were the least likely to stay in education after GCSEs (and equivalent qualifications). They were the most likely to go into employment (8% and 9% respectively) – however, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions about these groups due to the small number of pupils in key stage 4.

6.3 Further education

Gypsy or Roma students were least likely to get at least 3 A grades at A level, with 10.8% of students doing so in the 2020 to 2021 school year. 20.0% of Irish Traveller students achieved at least 3 A grades, compared to the national average of 28.9%. The figures for Gypsy or Roma (61) and Irish Traveller (19) students are based on small numbers, so any generalisations are unreliable.

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series was cancelled in 2021, and alternative processes were set up to award grades. In 2020/21 attainment is higher than would be expected in a typical year. This likely reflects the changes to the way A/AS level grades were awarded rather than improvements in student performance.

6.4 School exclusions

In the 2019 to 2020 school year, the suspension rates were 15.28% for Gypsy or Roma pupils, and 10.12% for Irish Traveller pupils – the highest rates out of all ethnic groups.

Also, the highest permanent exclusion rates were among Gypsy or Roma pupils (0.23%, or 23 exclusions for every 10,000 pupils). Irish Traveller pupils were permanently excluded at a rate of 0.14%, or 14 exclusions for every 10,000 pupils.

6.5 School absence

In the autumn term of the 2020 to 2021 school year, 52.6% of Gypsy or Roma pupils, and 56.7% of Irish Traveller pupils were persistently absent from school . Pupils from these ethnic groups had the highest rates of overall absence and persistent absence.

For the 2020 to 2021 school year, not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19) was not counted toward the overall absence rate and persistent absence rates.

Data in this section is from the 2011 Census for England and Wales, and for people aged 16 and over. Economic activity and employment rates might vary from other published figures that are based on people of working age.

47% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people aged 16 and over were economically active, compared to an average of 63% in England and Wales.

Of economically active people, 51% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were employees, and 26% were self-employed. 20% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were unemployed, compared to an average for all ethnic groups of 7%.

7.1 Socio-economic group

Figure 4: socio-economic group of gypsy or irish traveller and average for all ethnic groups for people aged 16 and over, table 4: socio-economic group of gypsy or irish traveller and average for all ethnic groups for people aged 16 and over.

Source: 2011 Census

31.2% of people in the Gypsy or Irish Traveller group were in the socio-economic group of ‘never worked or long-term unemployed’. This was the highest percentage of all ethnic groups.

The Gypsy or Irish Traveller group had the smallest percentage of people in the highest socio-economic groups. 2.5% were in the ‘higher, managerial, administrative, professional’ group.

15.1% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were small employers and own account workers. These are people who are generally self-employed and have responsibility for a small number of workers.

For Gypsy or Irish Travellers, who were 16 and over and in employment, the largest group worked in elementary occupations (22%). This can include occupations such as farm workers, process plant workers, cleaners, or service staff (for example, bar or cleaning staff).

The second highest occupation group was skilled trades (19%), which can include farmers, electrical and building trades. The Gypsy or Irish Traveller group had the highest percentage of elementary and skilled trade workers out of all ethnic groups.

7.2 Employment gender gap

The gender gap in employment rates for the Gypsy or Irish Traveller group aged 16 and over was nearly twice as large as for all ethnic groups combined. In the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group, 46% of men and 29% of women were employed, a gap of 17%. For all ethnic groups combined, 64% of men and 54% of women were employed, a gap of 10%.

This is likely to be due to the fact that Gypsy or Irish Traveller women (63%) were about 1.5 times as likely as Gypsy or Irish Traveller men (43%) to be economically inactive, which means they were out of work and not looking for work.

7.3 Economic inactivity

There are a range of reasons why people can be economically inactive. The most common reason for Gypsy or Irish Travellers being economically inactive was looking after the home or family (27%). This is higher than the average for England and Wales (11%). The second most common reason was being long term sick or disabled (26%) – the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups.

8. Home ownership data

Figure 5: home ownership and renting among gypsy or irish traveller households and all households, table 5: home ownership and renting among gypsy or irish traveller households and all households.

Source: England, 2011 Census

In 2011, 34% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households owned their own home, compared with a national average of 64%. 42% lived in social rented accommodation, compared with a national average of 18%.

In 2016 to 2017, 0.1% of new social housing lettings went to people from Gypsy or Irish Traveller backgrounds (429 lettings).

In 2011, a whole house or bungalow was the most common type of accommodation for Gypsy or Irish Traveller households (61%). This was lower than for all usual residents in England and Wales (84%).

Caravans or other mobile or temporary homes accounted for 24% of Gypsy or Irish Travellers accommodation, a far higher percentage than for the whole of England and Wales (0.3%).

The percentage of people living in a flat, maisonette or apartment was 15% for both Gypsy or Irish Travellers and all usual residents in England and Wales.

In 2011, 14.1% of Gypsy and Irish Traveller people in England and Wales rated their health as bad or very bad, compared with 5.6% on average for all ethnic groups.

In 2016 to 2017, Gypsy or Irish Traveller people aged 65 and over had the lowest health-related quality of life of all ethnic groups (average score of 0.509 out of 1). The quality of life scores for the White Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group are based on a small number of responses (around 35 each year) and are less reliable as a result.

Ethnicity facts and figures has information on satisfaction of different health services for different ethnic groups. For the results presented below, the Gypsy or Irish Traveller figures are based on a relatively small number of respondents, and are less reliable than figures for other ethnic groups.

In 2014 to 2015 (the most recent data available), these groups were the most satisfied with their experience of GP-out-of-hours service , with 75.2% reporting a positive experience.

In 2018 to 2019, they were less satisfied with their experience of GP services than most ethnic groups – 73.0% reported a positive experience.

They were also among the groups that had least success when booking an NHS dentist appointment – 89.0% reported successfully booking an appointment in 2018 to 2019.

The Gypsy or Irish Traveller group were also less satisfied with their access to GP services in 2018 to 2019 – 56.9% reported a positive experience of making a GP appointment, compared to an average of 67.4% for all respondents.

Publication release date: 31 January 2022

Updated: 29 March 2022

29 March 2022: Corrected A-level data in Table 3, and All ethnic groups data in Table 4. Corrected the legend in Figure 1 (map).

31 January 2022: Initial publication.

what is a gypsy and traveller definition

Gypsy and Traveler Culture in America

Gypsy and Traveler Culture, History and Genealogy in America

Are you a Gypsy, Traveler or Roader, or have some ancestry in any one of such groups? This site is dedicated to you; to help you become more aware of your own rich heritage, to help preserve your traditions, language and knowledge of where you came from and who you are.

The identities of Traveling People are everywhere threatened by the flood of misinformation that is being disseminated on the web and through the popular media. This site pledges to correct such misinformation and to present an accurate and unbiased view of traveling life as it has unfolded since the your ancestors first set foot in the New World.

Preservation of your ethnic heritage and pride in your own ethnic identity are some of the most valuable assets that any parents can leave to their children and grandchildren. To be of Gypsy or Traveler background is something special, something to be treasured along with the language, customs, and cultural values embodied in a unique way of life.

If you want to learn more about your family and your ethnic group, whether you be of Cale, Hungarian-Slovak, Ludar, Rom, Romnichel or Sinti Gypsy or American (Roader), English, German, Irish or Scotch Traveler background we will provide you with an interactive forum for asking questions, finding lost relatives, guidance to accurate sources, exchanging information as well as just keeping in touch with your own kind.

To get started just send a note to ASK MATT specifying what kind of Gypsy you are and in which family background you are interested.

The foundation on which this site is built is a rich storehouse of data of every imaginable kind: documentary sources, oral histories and observations of traveling life collected in over 35 years of unpaid research by Matt and Sheila Salo. The Salos have dedicated their lives to providing a true history of traveling life in America and to dispelling the myths that are currently being spread on the web and other media.

This endeavor is based on the premise that every kind of Gypsy and Traveler has a right to his or her own identity, whatever it might be. Each of you has a unique heritage that your ancestors nurtured over centuries of hardship and persecution. Now those rich and unique identities are in danger of being lost as more and more people lose the sense of who they are; customs, language and traditional life patterns are not being passed on; some people are even becoming ashamed of their Gypsy or Traveler identities.

Again, email any specific inquiries into American Gypsy or Traveler history, culture and genealogy to Matt T. Salo at ASK MATT .

Forthcoming: This history and culture page under preparation will be divided into subject areas that you can access separately depending on your interests. If you seek information sources, have specific questions, or want to broaden your horizons by learning about other groups, we will provide the best, most accurate information available. You will not be fed speculations about Melungeons, hordes of Gypsies in Colonial America, or Gypsies and Travelers as hapless victims or criminal castes - instead all our information will be based on actual verified data that truly represents the experience of your people in America since your ancestors first arrived here.

Culture and language are not easily lost and, unless you are among those few unfortunate individuals whose parents or grandparents misguidedly tried to separate themselves and their families from their roots, you should easily be able to pick up traits of language and culture that indicate your origins. We will begin with a brief overview of the different groups to orient those among you who are not quite sure of where they belong. More detailed descriptions will follow.

Gypsy and Traveler Groups in the United States

Cale: Spanish Gypsies, or Gitanos, are found primarily in the metropolitan centers of the East and West coasts. A small community of only a few families.

English Travelers: Fairly amorphous group, possibly formed along same lines as Roaders (see below), but taking shape already in England before their emigration to the US starting in early 1880s. Associate mainly with Romnichels. Boundaries and numbers uncertain.

Hungarian-Slovak: Mainly sedentary Gypsies found primarily in the industrial cities of northern U.S. Number in few thousands. Noted for playing "Gypsy music" in cafes, night clubs and restaurants.

Irish Travelers: Peripatetic group that is ethnically Irish and does not identify itself as "Gypsy," although sometimes called "Irish Gypsies." Widely scattered, but somewhat concentrated in the southern states. Estimates vary but about 10,000 should be close to the actual numbers.

Ludar: Gypsies from the Banat area, also called Rumanian Gypsies. Arrived after 1880. Have about the same number of families as the Rom, but actual numbers are unknown.

Roaders or Roadies: Native born Americans who have led a traveling life similar to that of the Gypsies and Travelers, but who were not originally descended from those groups. Numbers unknown as not all families studied.

Rom: Gypsies of East European origin who arrived after 1880. Mostly urban, they are scattered across the entire country. One of the larger groups in the US, possibly in the 55-60,000 range.

Romnichels: English Gypsies who arrived beginning in 1850. Scattered across the entire country, but tend to be somewhat more rural than the other Gypsy groups. Many families are now on their way to being assimilated, hence estimation of numbers depends on criteria used.

Scottish Travelers: Ethnically Scottish, but separated for centuries from mainstream society in Scotland where they were known as Tinkers. Some came to Canada after 1850 and to the United States in appreciable numbers after 1880. Over 100 distinct clans have been identified but total numbers not known.

Sinti: Little studied early group of German Gypsies in the United States consisting of few families heavily assimilated with both non-Gypsy and Romnichel populations. No figures are available.

Yenisch: Mostly assimilated group of ethnic Germans, misidentified as Gypsies, who formed an occupational caste of basket makers and founded an entire community in Pennsylvania after their immigration starting 1840. Because of assimilation current numbers are impossible to determine.

This inventory leaves out several Gypsy groups that have immigrated since 1970 due to the unrest and renewed persecution in Eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism. They have come from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, the former Yugoslavian area, and possibly other countries. They number in few thousands by now, but their numbers are likely to increase.

Copyright @ 2002 Matt T. Salo

what is a gypsy and traveller definition

Gypsy Roma and Traveller History and Culture

Gypsy Roma and Traveller people belong to minority ethnic groups that have contributed to British society for centuries. Their distinctive way of life and traditions manifest themselves in nomadism, the centrality of their extended family, unique languages and entrepreneurial economy. It is reported that there are around 300,000 Travellers in the UK and they are one of the most disadvantaged groups. The real population may be different as some members of these communities do not participate in the census .

The Traveller Movement works predominantly with ethnic Gypsy, Roma, and Irish Traveller Communities.

Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsies

Irish Travellers

Traditionally, Irish Travellers are a nomadic group of people from Ireland but have a separate identity, heritage and culture to the community in general. An Irish Traveller presence can be traced back to 12th century Ireland, with migrations to Great Britain in the early 19th century. The Irish Traveller community is categorised as an ethnic minority group under the Race Relations Act, 1976 (amended 2000); the Human Rights Act 1998; and the Equality Act 2010. Some Travellers of Irish heritage identify as Pavee or Minceir, which are words from the Irish Traveller language, Shelta.

Romany Gypsies

Romany Gypsies have been in Britain since at least 1515 after migrating from continental Europe during the Roma migration from India. The term Gypsy comes from “Egyptian” which is what the settled population perceived them to be because of their dark complexion. In reality, linguistic analysis of the Romani language proves that Romany Gypsies, like the European Roma, originally came from Northern India, probably around the 12th century. French Manush Gypsies have a similar origin and culture to Romany Gypsies.

There are other groups of Travellers who may travel through Britain, such as Scottish Travellers, Welsh Travellers and English Travellers, many of whom can trace a nomadic heritage back for many generations and who may have married into or outside of more traditional Irish Traveller and Romany Gypsy families. There were already indigenous nomadic people in Britain when the Romany Gypsies first arrived hundreds of years ago and the different cultures/ethnicities have to some extent merged.

Number of Gypsies and Travellers in Britain

This year, the 2021 Census included a “Roma” category for the first time, following in the footsteps of the 2011 Census which included a “Gypsy and Irish Traveller” category. The 2021 Census statistics have not yet been released but the 2011 Census put the combined Gypsy and Irish Traveller population in England and Wales as 57,680. This was recognised by many as an underestimate for various reasons. For instance, it varies greatly with data collected locally such as from the Gypsy Traveller Accommodation Needs Assessments, which total the Traveller population at just over 120,000, according to our research.

Other academic estimates of the combined Gypsy, Irish Traveller and other Traveller population range from 120,000 to 300,000. Ethnic monitoring data of the Gypsy Traveller population is rarely collected by key service providers in health, employment, planning and criminal justice.

Where Gypsies and Travellers Live

Although most Gypsies and Travellers see travelling as part of their identity, they can choose to live in different ways including:

  • moving regularly around the country from site to site and being ‘on the road’
  • living permanently in caravans or mobile homes, on sites provided by the council, or on private sites
  • living in settled accommodation during winter or school term-time, travelling during the summer months
  • living in ‘bricks and mortar’ housing, settled together, but still retaining a strong commitment to Gypsy/Traveller culture and traditions

Currently, their nomadic life is being threatened by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, that is currently being deliberated in Parliament, To find out more or get involved with opposing this bill, please visit here

Although Travellers speak English in most situations, they often speak to each other in their own language; for Irish Travellers this is called Cant or Gammon* and Gypsies speak Romani, which is the only indigenous language in the UK with Indic roots.

*Sometimes referred to as “Shelta” by linguists and academics

what is a gypsy and traveller definition

New Travellers and Show People

There are also Traveller groups which are known as ‘cultural’ rather than ‘ethnic’ Travellers. These include ‘new’ Travellers and Showmen. Most of the information on this page relates to ethnic Travellers but ‘Showmen’ do share many cultural traits with ethnic Travellers.

Show People are a cultural minority that have owned and operated funfairs and circuses for many generations and their identity is connected to their family businesses. They operate rides and attractions that can be seen throughout the summer months at funfairs. They generally have winter quarters where the family settles to repair the machinery that they operate and prepare for the next travelling season. Most Show People belong to the Showmen’s Guild which is an organisation that provides economic and social regulation and advocacy for Show People. The Showman’s Guild works with both central and local governments to protect the economic interests of its members.

The term New Travellers refers to people sometimes referred to as “New Age Travellers”. They are generally people who have taken to life ‘on the road’ in their own lifetime, though some New Traveller families claim to have been on the road for three consecutive generations. The New Traveller culture grew out of the hippie and free-festival movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Barge Travellers are similar to New Travellers but live on the UK’s 2,200 miles of canals. They form a distinct group in the canal network and many are former ‘new’ Travellers who moved onto the canals after changes to the law made the free festival circuit and a life on the road almost untenable. Many New Travellers have also settled into private sites or rural communes although a few groups are still travelling.

If you are a new age Traveller and require support please contact Friends, Families, and Travellers (FFT) .

Differences and Values

Differences Between Gypsies, Travellers, and Roma

Gypsies, Roma and Travellers are often categorised together under the “Roma” definition in Europe and under the acronym “GRT” in Britain. These communities and other nomadic groups, such as Scottish and English Travellers, Show People and New Travellers, share a number of characteristics in common: the importance of family and/or community networks; the nomadic way of life, a tendency toward self-employment, experience of disadvantage and having the poorest health outcomes in the United Kingdom.

The Roma communities also originated from India from around the 10th/ 12th centuries and have historically faced persecution, including slavery and genocide. They are still marginalised and ghettoised in many Eastern European countries (Greece, Bulgaria, Romania etc) where they are often the largest and most visible ethnic minority group, sometimes making up 10% of the total population. However, ‘Roma’ is a political term and a self-identification of many Roma activists. In reality, European Roma populations are made up of various subgroups, some with their own form of Romani, who often identify as that group rather than by the all-encompassing Roma identity.

Travellers and Roma each have very different customs, religion, language and heritage. For instance, Gypsies are said to have originated in India and the Romani language (also spoken by Roma) is considered to consist of at least seven varieties, each a language in their own right.

Values and Culture of GRT Communities

Family, extended family bonds and networks are very important to the Gypsy and Traveller way of life, as is a distinct identity from the settled ‘Gorja’ or ‘country’ population. Family anniversaries, births, weddings and funerals are usually marked by extended family or community gatherings with strong religious ceremonial content. Gypsies and Travellers generally marry young and respect their older generation. Contrary to frequent media depiction, Traveller communities value cleanliness and tidiness.

Many Irish Travellers are practising Catholics, while some Gypsies and Travellers are part of a growing Christian Evangelical movement.

Gypsy and Traveller culture has always adapted to survive and continues to do so today. Rapid economic change, recession and the gradual dismantling of the ‘grey’ economy have driven many Gypsy and Traveller families into hard times. The criminalisation of ‘travelling’ and the dire shortage of authorised private or council sites have added to this. Some Travellers describe the effect that this is having as “a crisis in the community” . A study in Ireland put the suicide rate of Irish Traveller men as 3-5 times higher than the wider population. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the same phenomenon is happening amongst Traveller communities in the UK.

Gypsies and Travellers are also adapting to new ways, as they have always done. Most of the younger generation and some of the older generation use social network platforms to stay in touch and there is a growing recognition that reading and writing are useful tools to have. Many Gypsies and Travellers utilise their often remarkable array of skills and trades as part of the formal economy. Some Gypsies and Travellers, many supported by their families, are entering further and higher education and becoming solicitors, teachers, accountants, journalists and other professionals.

There have always been successful Gypsy and Traveller businesses, some of which are household names within their sectors, although the ethnicity of the owners is often concealed. Gypsies and Travellers have always been represented in the fields of sport and entertainment.

How Gypsies and Travellers Are Disadvantaged

The Traveller, Gypsy, and Roma communities are widely considered to be among the most socially excluded communities in the UK. They have a much lower life expectancy than the general population, with Traveller men and women living 10-12 years less than the wider population.

Travellers have higher rates of infant mortality, maternal death and stillbirths than the general population. They experience racist sentiment in the media and elsewhere, which would be socially unacceptable if directed at any other minority community. Ofsted consider young Travellers to be one of the groups most at risk of low attainment in education.

Government services rarely include Traveller views in the planning and delivery of services.

In recent years, there has been increased political networking between the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller activists and campaign organisations.

Watch this video by Travellers Times made for Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month 2021:

what is a gypsy and traveller definition

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what is a gypsy and traveller definition

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what is a gypsy and traveller definition

Social Welfare Lawyers in the Centre of Birmingham

Definition of gypsy and traveller.

Li sa Smith -v- The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Others [2021] EWHC 1650 (Admin) 17 June 2021

Between 2006 and 2015, planning policies included within the definition of ‘Gypsies and Travellers’ those who had either temporarily or permanently ceased to travel by reason of health, education or old age. By a revised planning policy issued in August 2015, the Department for Communities and Local Government modified the definition to remove the reference to those who had permanently ceased to travel for such reasons. Lisa Smith, a Romany Gypsy who lives with her extended family in caravans on a private site in Leicestershire, challenged the lawfulness of the 2015 policy following a Planning Inspector refusing her planning appeal because she did not come within the definition. As a result the Planning Inspector concluded that the application by Ms Smith did not benefit from the more permissive planning regime contained in Planning policy for traveller sites.

Mr Justice Pepperall dismissed her appeal. Originally Ms Smith appealed on another ground, aside from the challenge to the alleged unlawfulness of the definition, but she is no longer pursuing that other ground.

CLP were instructed by four Gypsy and Traveller organisations to intervene in support of Ms Smith and her challenge to the lawfulness of the definition. Those organisations are: The National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups; Friends, Families and Travellers; London Gypsies and Travellers; and the Southwark Travellers’ Action Group.

Despite dismissing the appeal, Pepperall J did accept that there was a problem as a result of the changed definition stating:

47……There is, however, clear evidence before me that there is an endemic problem, and I am entitled to express disquiet as to the poor outcomes achieved by so many Gypsies and the disproportionate difficulty faced by many Gypsies and Travellers in obtaining planning permission. I ask Mr Mould in the course of his submissions on behalf of the Secretary of State why, if the planning system is capable of operating lawfully, it is going wrong. He thoughtfully replied that there are a number of problems:

47.1 First, there is an unwillingness on the part of planning authorities to prioritise the needs of Gypsies and Travellers.

47.2 Secondly, the voice of Gypsies and Travellers is not heard as loudly as that of the major housebuilders.

47.3 Thirdly, there is a shortage of land that is obviously suitable.

47.4 Fourthly, he cautioned that the pattern of evidence presented to the court was designed to emphasise the failures of the current system.

48. The fourth point was well made. It was of course open to the Secretary of State to present evidence to correct the picture, but in fairness he could properly conclude that such course would be inappropriate since the court is dealing with a discrete challenge to the lawfulness of PPTS 2015 and not undertaking a wide-ranging audit as to the effectiveness of government policy.

Pepperall J referred to the equality impact assessment carried out by the Government prior to changing the policy:

49. In June 2015, the Secretary of State undertook an impact assessment of the new planning policy in accordance with the public sector equality duty pursuant to s149 of the Equality Act 2010. Such analysis concluded:

‘We recognise that this proposal will have an impact on the identified racial group i.e. Gypsies and Travellers. We note, for example, that Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are a protected race under the Equality Act 2010….Additionally, within this group there is likely to be a specific impact on the elderly, disabled and possibly women (particularly those from single parent families). We recognise that age, disability and gender are also protected characteristics under the Act.

T he impacts are likely to be on article 8 rights to private and family life, home and correspondence. For example, this could mean that those persons without family connections will no longer be able to live with other members of their Gypsy and Traveller community’.

Pepperall J referred to a very important report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC):

5 2. In 2019, the EHRC published its research report, Gypsy and Traveller Sites: The Revised Planning Definition’s Impact on Assessing Accommodation Needs. The report’s key finding was that the pre-2015 assessment of a sample of 20 local planning authorities that a further 1584 pitches were required fell to just 345 plus a further 450 pitches for households whose travelling status had not been ascertained. Dr Siobhan Spencer MBE, a trustee and co- founder of the National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups, observes that the report showed that PPTS 2015 had led to a sharp drop of almost 75% in the provision of pitches.

53. Ms Kirkby [of FFT] explains that nearly half of those assessed as needing a pitch in the south east fall outside the PPTS 2015 definition of Gypsies and Travellers. Since the needs of such people will not be counted by Local Authorities assessing the required number of pitches, there will be inadequate provision for Gypsies and Travellers both now and for future generations.

Pepperall J decided that points raised about race discrimination were not open to Ms Smith since they had not been pleaded but it is not accepted by Ms Smith and her lawyers that those points were not pleaded and this will be part of the appeal against this decision.

Since the Secretary of State had conceded that there was, on the face of it, discrimination the fundamental issue was whether there was objective and reasonable justification for the Secretary of State’s decision to limit the ambit of the definition. Pepperall J placed reliance on a previous Court of Appeal judgment relating to a previous version of the definition of Gypsy and Traveller, namely the case of Wrexham County Borough Council -v- National Assembly of Wales [2003] EWCA Civ 835. Pepperall J stated:

78. The Wrexham Case authoritatively dealt with the position under article 8. While the case was not argued on the basis of article 14, the Court of Appeal’s clear conclusions are instructive on three issues:

78.1 First, that the ambit of the then applicable planning policy for Gypsies and Travellers was functional in that it focused on the applicant’s way of life and consequent land-use needs, rather than upon his or her cultural needs.

78.2 Secondly, the rationale for such policy was that a nomadic lifestyle brings with it special needs in that it renders nomads more vulnerable to homelessness if subjected to the normal rigours of planning control.

78.3 Thirdly, that once a Gypsy or Traveller gives up his or her nomadic lifestyle, there is no justification for continuing to apply a more relaxed planning regime provided the planning system continues to respect the applicant’s article 8 rights.

79. I am satisfied that PPTS 2015 remains at its core a functional test of nomadism and that its focus is upon the specific land-use needs of those leading a nomadic lifestyle.

The Judge continued:

80. In my judgment, the Secretary of State was plainly justified in drawing a distinction between the specific land-use needs of those seeking to lead a nomadic lifestyle and those seeking a more settled existence. The former throws up particular challenges both for applicants and planning authorities, and the Secretary of State was entitled to devise a specific policy focusing on that issue which did not also seek to address the cultural needs of those Gypsies and Travellers now seeking a permanent home.

The Judge further stated:

81. It was a matter for the executive and not the judiciary to determine whether:

81.1 The PPTS should make provision for the land-use needs of all Gypsies and Travellers irrespective of whether they remain nomadic or have ceased travelling.

81.2 Alternatively, the policy should make discrete provision only for the land-use needs of Gypsies and Travellers who remain of a ‘nomadic habit of life’ and make provision for the needs of permanently settled Gypsies and Travellers through the mainstream planning system.

82. There is nothing inherently objectionable to the executive choosing to take the latter approach as it did between 1994 and 2006 and again from 2015, provided that the system is capable of taking into account the article 8 rights of permanently settled Gypsies and Travellers and their particular personal circumstances.

Pepperall J concluded:

87. For the reasons explained above, I reach the following conclusions:

87.1 It was a legitimate aim to distinguish between the land-use needs of nomadic people and of the settled community.

87.2 Provided the planning system as a whole takes into account the particular needs of Gypsies and Travellers who have retired from travelling, whether through age or disability, it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim to limit PPTS 2015 to the particular land-use needs of nomadic Gypsies and Travellers.

Ms Smith is now seeking permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal. The Interveners intend to continue with their intervention since they fully support this appeal and find this judgment extremely disappointing to say the least. The Interveners had presented a great deal of evidence showing that ‘permanently’ settled Gypsies and Travellers are not having their needs catered for under the current planning system. As was recognised by Pepperall J, the Secretary of State failed to provide any evidence to the contrary.

We hope that Ms Smith will be given permission to appeal by the Court of Appeal on this crucial issue and that the matter will now proceed to a final Hearing in the Court of Appeal.

Chris Johnson 27 July 2021

Postscript: The National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups (NFGLG) have now ceased trading due to changes in funding arrangements and their national policy role has been taken over by Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group (DGLG). DGLG will be seeking to take the place of NFGLG in the ongoing intervention in the Court of Appeal. CLP continue as the Solicitors for the Interveners and the Counsel for the Interveners are David Wolfe QC of Matrix Chambers and Owen Greenhall of Garden Court Chambers. The Equality and Human Rights Commission and Liberty also intervened at High Court level and we would hope that they will continue with their intervention in the Court of Appeal.

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Definition of Gypsy

 (Entry 1 of 2)

Though still frequently encountered in English, use of the term Gypsy to refer to Roma people or their language is increasingly regarded as offensive because of negative stereotypes associated with that term. Although Gypsy is sometimes used as a neutral or positive self-descriptor, it is recommended that those for whom it is not a self-descriptor use Roma or Romani/Romany instead. Other uses of gypsy are also increasingly understood as offensive, including the general "wanderer" meaning of the noun and the related meaning of the verb gypsy , as well as compound terms, such as gypsy moth and gypsy cab .

Definition of gypsy  (Entry 2 of 2)

intransitive verb

Examples of Gypsy in a Sentence

Word history.

by shortening & alteration from Egyptian

1574, in the meaning defined at sense 1

1820, in the meaning defined above

Dictionary Entries Near Gypsy

gypsum plaster

Cite this Entry

“Gypsy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary , Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Gypsy. Accessed 11 May. 2024.

Kids Definition

Kids definition of gypsy.

a shortened and altered form of Egyptian; so called because Romani were once believed to have come from Egypt

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‘Landmark’ court judgement rules that ‘gypsy status’ planning law discriminates

‘Landmark’ court judgement rules ‘gypsy status’ planning law discriminatory

Planning definition for Traveller sites excludes disabled and elderly Gypsies and Travellers say judges

In a significant victory for Gypsies and Travellers, the  Court of Appeal  has rejected the Government’s use of a “discriminatory” planning definition  that determines who gets to live on a Traveller site.

The court decision, which has been handed down yesterday nearly three months after the Court of Appeal sat, has determined that the Government’s planning definition of Gypsies and Travellers (known as ‘gypsy status’) is unlawful and breaks equalities laws.

Campaigners say that the planning definition, which was changed to its current form in 2015, discriminates against elderly and disabled Gypsies and Travellers because to get ‘gypsy status’ you have to prove that you are able to continue to travel to look for work. No exception to that rule is given if you are disabled and/or elderly.

Chief Executive Officer of London Gypsies and Travellers Debby Kennett said:

“We are proud to be involved in such a significant victory, not only for Lisa Smith and her family, but for Gypsies and Travellers who have been campaigning against this discriminatory policy since 2014.

This case both exposes and recognises the discrimination Gypsies and Travellers face in the planning system.”

The case was taken to the Court of Appeal by  Lisa Smith , who since 2011 has rented pitches on a private site with temporary planning permission. Two of Ms Smith’s adult sons are severely disabled and cannot travel for work.

Ms Smith previously attempted to challenge the use of the discriminatory planning definition  in the High Court but was unsuccessful.

The case was then taken to the Court of Appeal, where the planning definition was declared ‘discriminatory’.

Speaking about what this decision means for Gypsy and Traveller people, Abbie Kirkby, Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Friends, Families and Travellers, said that the Court of Appeal’s decision sets in stone what Gypsy and Traveller people have known all this time – that no matter which way you twist it, discrimination is never justified.

"The judgement recognises that protected characteristics are protected for a reason, and sheds light on policies and legislation that have attacked and stripped back the cultural traditions of Gypsy and Traveller people like Ms Smith,” added Abbie Kirkby.


As it stands, the definition excludes large numbers of Gypsies and Travellers living in caravans who need a place to live, regardless of ethnic status. It has often been used by local authorities to argue that there is no need for additional sites in their local area.

In support of the case, Friends, Families and Travellers along with  London Gypsies and Travellers ,  Southwark Travellers Action Group  and the  Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group  joined the initial challenge together as ‘Interveners’, presenting vital evidence of the discriminatory effects of the Government’s definition on the wider Gypsy and Traveller community.

The joint Interveners continued to support the challenge in the Court of Appeal and were represented by the barristers David Wolfe KC, Owen Greenhall and Tim Jones. Their solicitor was Chris Johnson of  CLP .

Speaking about the Court of Appeal decision, Chris Johnson, Partner at Community Law Partnership, said:

“This is a landmark judgment. Congratulations to Lisa Smith and to her counsel, Marc Willers KC and Tessa Buchanan and her solicitor, Keith Coughtrie of Deighton Pierce Glynn, and to the Interveners in this case.

Though I understand that the Government will seek to take the matter to the Supreme Court, it leaves them with a major headache as to how to deal with the use of the definition in planning cases in the meantime.”

The Court of Appeal’s decision does not automatically get rid of the current definition, and the Government will be seeking permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. The full judgment can be seen  here .

A message from Community Law Partnership:

We are delighted to inform our readers that the application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court by three leading Traveller organisations in this matter concerning wide injunctions has been successful. 

As ordered by the Supreme Court, you can download the following documents below:

TT News/FFT press release

(Lead picture © Natasha Quarmby)

Further reading from 2016: Lisa Smith says the Government need to think again about ‘gypsy status’ | Travellers Times

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The term 'Gypsy/Travellers' refers to distinct groups – such as Roma, Romany Gypsies, Scottish and Irish Travellers – who consider the travelling lifestyle part of their ethnic identity.

We are committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for all of Scotland's Gypsy/Travellers, a particularly marginalised group.

  • improving educational outcomes for Gypsy/Traveller children
  • introducing improvements in social care and accommodation for Gypsy/Travellers
  • focussing on the above areas based on findings from the 2011 census relating to the needs of Gypsy/Travellers

The 2011 census was the first to include an option for Gypsy/Travellers in the ethnicity category. This means the census has enabled baseline data for Gypsy/Travellers to be developed across a range of areas including accommodation, health, education and employment.

In the census, 4,200 people identified themselves as 'White: Gypsy/Traveller' (it is likely that some chose not to). Organisations that work with Gypsy/Travellers believe Scotland's community comprises 15,000 to 20,000 people.

We are working to ensure equality for Gypsy/Travellers by integrating their needs into policies such as health, education and social services. We make equality considerations part of our everyday work. Find out more about: mainstreaming equality .

On 11 December 2017, we launched the  Race Equality Action Plan , which includes a specific section on Gypsy/Travellers. We also established  a ministerial working group  to take action to improve the lives of Gypsy/Traveller communities in Scotland.  In October 2019 we published Improving the Lives of Gypsy/Travellers  jointly with COSLA which includes a number of actions to provide more and better accommodation for Gypsy/Travellers. 

Email: [email protected] – Central Enquiry Unit

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

Post: The Scottish Government St Andrew's House Regent Road Edinburgh EH1 3DG

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Planning applications by gypsies and travellers

  • January 12, 2018

Travellers caravans iStock 000010792699XSmall 164x219

There are those who continue to believe that members of the travelling community suffer from discrimination in favour of the settled community. The author intends to show that in one very important respect, the opposite is true: the treatment by local planning authorities (LPAs) of applications for planning permission by gypsies and travellers for the development of their own land.

The definition of “Gypsies and travellers”

In the interests of brevity, from here on the word “travellers” will be used to include gypsies. This article is not primarily concerned with ethnicity (though that will come back into consideration in the context of The Equality Act 2010 ). Travellers in this sense includes Romani gypsies and Irish travellers (both of which have been recognised by the courts as distinct ethnic groups) as well as “new age” or “new” travellers. Since this article is concerned solely with planning issues, the only definition which is relevant to its purposes is to be found in the guidance note of the Department for Communities and Local Government August 2015 “ Planning policy for traveller sites ” ( “the Guidance”). The definition is in the Glossary in Annex 1 and is as follows:

“Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependants’ educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily, but excluding members of an organised group of travelling showpeople or circus people travelling together as such.”

Relevant principles of planning law

Planning control in the UK is plan-led. The Guidance itself (in paragraph 2) correctly states that planning law requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the development plan ( Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 s.38 (6) ), unless material considerations indicate otherwise. Note that what is to be taken into account, and is a material consideration in planning decisions, is the policy set out in the Guidance as a whole – it is not the fact that the application is made by a person or persons who is or are within the definition in the Guidance. From here on, for brevity, the expression “gypsy status” will be used to mean persons who are within the definition. The Guidance does not say that the gypsy status of applicants for planning permission is the only consideration; it is a material consideration only and needs to be balanced with other material considerations, including not only the provisions of the development plan, but the contents of the Guidance itself.

The Guidance

What has just been said is demonstrated by reference to some other provisions of the Guidance, in particular the following (using the paragraph numbers of the Guidance itself):

“3) The Government’s overarching aim is 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.”

“4(i) - to reduce tensions between settled and traveller communities in plan-making and planning decisions.”

“4(k) - for local planning authorities to have due regard to the protection of local amenity and local environment.”

“14. When assessing the suitability of sites in rural or semi-rural settings, local planning authorities should ensure that the scale of such sites does not dominate the nearest settled community.”

“16. Inappropriate development is harmful to the Green Belt and should not be approved, except in very special circumstances. Traveller sites (temporary or permanent) in the Green Belt are inappropriate development. Subject to the best interests of the child, personal circumstances and unmet need are unlikely to clearly outweigh harm to the Green Belt and any other harm so as to establish very special circumstances.”

“25. Local planning authorities should very strictly limit new traveller site development in open countryside that is away from existing settlements or outside areas allocated in the development plan. Local planning authorities should ensure that sites in rural areas respect the scale of, and do not dominate, the nearest settled community, and avoid placing an undue pressure on the local infrastructure.”

“27. If a local planning authority cannot demonstrate an up–to-date 5 year supply of deliverable sites, this should be a significant material consideration in any subsequent planning decision when considering applications for the grant of temporary planning permission .” (Emphasis added).

Again, in view of the comments to follow, it is also worth referring to paragraph 28 of the Guidance, which lists certain planning conditions or planning obligations which may be used to mitigate the impact of traveller development. This limited list (which I acknowledge is not intended to be inclusive) does not include a condition on a permanent planning permission limiting occupiers of the permitted units to persons with gypsy status – see below.

The approach of LPAs to applications

The above is necessary background to the author’s two main propositions. The first is that some LPAs are too inclined to assume gypsy status from the twin facts that the applicant claims to be a traveller (or sometimes only “of traveller culture”) and that the application is for the stationing of caravans and the carrying out of associated engineering operations. In the author’s view (based on direct experience) some LPAs tend to take far too relaxed a view on traveller applications. The leading book on the subject is Gypsy and Traveller Law 2nd Edition, edited by Chris Johnson and Marc Willers (Legal Action Group). The book is an excellent guide to the relevant law, but it is hoped that the learned editors will not be offended by the suggestion that they are generally supportive of travellers (which is a long way from saying that the text of the book is itself biased – quite the contrary). Indeed, the editors acknowledge in paragraph 4.6 (5) that:

“In the majority of cases concerning gypsies and travellers, the proposed use of a piece of land as a Gypsy caravan site will conflict with some policies contained in the development plan. In such circumstances, gypsies and travellers will only be granted planning permission if they can show that there are material considerations that outweigh the development plan policy objections and justify the grant of planning permission.”

The work goes on to discuss the meaning of “material considerations”: space does not allow a detailed examination of that here (those mentioned in the work include the local need for, and availability of, sites; the applicant’s personal circumstances; and human rights): the point made here is simply that the learned editors appear to acknowledge the truth of what has been said above, i.e. that gypsy status, although a material consideration, is not in itself enough to override development plan policies.

The same work at paragraph 4.125, in giving guidance to advisors assisting with an application for planning permission, suggests that the application should ideally be accompanied by information on evidence of the applicant’s gypsy status:

“including details of travelling by the applicant and by family members for the purpose of work and copies (not originals in case they are lost) of family photographs”.

The editors go on to list a number of other matters which would assist in establishing the applicant’s gypsy status. The fundamental point made here is that if an applicant for planning permission wishes to ask for his gypsy status to be taken into account as a material consideration in his favour, then it is for the applicant to demonstrate that status and for the LPA to be satisfied with the evidence presented. It is not enough for an officer in a planning assessment to say (as in cases I have seen) that, although objectors have questioned the applicant’s gypsy status, “I have seen no evidence to the contrary”.

In performing their planning control functions, LPAs should have due regard to the meaning of the words in the definition “persons of nomadic habit of life”. Historically, nomadic groups would move from place to place for the purposes of commerce. They would normally have skills in trade and craftsmanship and would travel from place to place selling those goods or performing agricultural services, and also sometimes providing musical and other entertainment. Going back still further, the original meaning of “nomadic” was connected with the concept of “seeking pasture”. In the case of R v South Hams DC Ex p. Gibbs [1995] Q.B. 158 , the Court of Appeal was concerned with the definition of “gypsies” in s16 of the Caravan Sites Act (which also used the words “persons of nomadic habit of life”). The Court recognised that societal changes (particularly in industry and agriculture) required a somewhat broader definition, and whilst confirming that nomadism must necessarily involve “wandering or travelling from place to place” the Court also decided that:

“there must be some recognisable connection between the wandering or travelling from place to place and the means whereby the persons concerned make or seek their livelihood”. In addition, “section sixteen [of the Caravan Sites Act 1968] does not therefore apply to persons or individuals who move from place to place merely as the fancy takes them and without any connection between the movement and their means of livelihood”.

LPAs should ask the question: if an applicant for planning permission is of a generally nomadic habit of life in the sense described in South Hams , why is he applying for (which is usually the case) a permanent residential planning permission – he should not need it. But perhaps LPAs would regard that as overly simplistic?

It is also worth referring to another Court of Appeal decision: Wrexham CBC v National Assembly of Wales [2003] EWCA Civ 835 where Auld LJ stated that the following propositions of law should be applied:

“(2) Whether applicants for planning permissions are of a ‘nomadic way of life’ as a matter of planning law and policy is a functional test to be applied to their normal way of life at the time of the determination. Are they at that time following such a habit of life in the sense of a pattern and/or a rhythm of fulltime or seasonal or other periodic travelling? The fact that they may have a permanent base from which they set out [on], and to which they return from, their periodic travelling may not deprive them of a nomadic status. And the fact that they are temporarily confined to their permanent base for personal reasons such as sickness and/or possibly the interests of their children may not do so either, depending on the reasons and the length of time, past and projected, of the abeyance of their travelling life. But if they have retired permanently from travelling for whatever reason, ill health, age or simply because they no longer wish to follow that way of life, they no longer have a ‘nomadic way of life’. That is not to say that they cannot recover it later, if their circumstances and intention change…But that would arise if and when they made some future application for permission on the strength of that resumption of status”.

(3) “Where, as here, a question is raised before a Planning Inspector as to whether the applicants for planning permission are ‘gypsies’ for the purpose of planning law and policy, he should, (1) clearly direct himself to and identify, the statutory and policy meaning of that word; and (2) as a second and separate exercise, decide by reference to that meaning on the facts of the case whether the applicants fall within it…

(4) In making the second, factual, decision whether applicants of planning permission are gypsies, the first and most important consideration is whether they are – to use a neutral expression – actually living a travelling life, whether a seasonal or periodic in some other way, at the time of the determination. If they are not, then it is a matter of fact and degree whether the current absence of travelling means that they have not acquired or no longer follow a nomadic way of life.”

It is submitted that these cases remain good law. With that in mind, the question arises whether the societal changes referred to in South Hams might have so reduced the number of families whose gypsy status would survive close examination as to render this discussion redundant, and whether recent high-profile cases are not essentially another aspect of the national shortage of affordable housing.

The inappropriate use of conditions

Reference was made above to two propositions. In essence, the first was that LPAs generally do not properly investigate gypsy status before applying the Guidance in considering applications. Where proper investigation is made, and it appears that the applicants (or intended occupiers) do not have gypsy status, then in the absence of other material considerations of sufficient weight to override the development plan (which will typically prohibit new housing development in the open countryside), the development plan should prevail and the application should be dismissed. But what if the applicant’s (or occupier’s) status does add up? The author’s second proposition is that in that situation (or indeed where they wrongly believe that the applicant has made his case) LPAs are granting the wrong kind of planning permission.

Paragraph 16 makes it clear that traveller sites (whether temporary or permanent) in the Green Belt are inappropriate development. Only exceptional factors relating to best interests of the child, personal circumstances and unmet need are remotely likely to be regarded as outweighing harm to the Green Belt so as to establish very special circumstances.

Paragraph 25 also states that LPAs should very strictly limit new traveller site development in open countryside that is away from existing settlements or outside areas allocated in the development plan (which will often echo the development plan). Where the ground regarded as justifying an exception to this rule is the lack of an up-to-date five year supply of deliverable sites, paragraph 25 states that this should be a significant material consideration when considering applications for the grant of temporary planning permission (Emphasis added).

Other outweighing material considerations are likely to be personal circumstances. In the case of personal circumstances, surely the logical thing for an LPA to do if it wishes to respect those circumstances is to grant a personal planning permission? This is logical and there is nothing to stop LPAs so acting. The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 s70 (1) empowers an LPA to grant permission “either unconditionally or subject to such conditions as they think fit”. Also, s.75 (1), while stating that normally permissions to develop land enure for the benefit of the land and all persons being interested in it, also states this applies “except in so far as the permission otherwise provides”. In other words the general rule may be expressly excluded.

The Government’s policy on personal conditions is that, while it is seldom desirable to limit permission to the applicant or any other named individual, there may be occasions where there are strong compassionate or personal grounds to do so; see Circular 11/95, “The use of conditions in planning permissions” , para 93. This is precisely the situation being contemplated here, i.e. where permission would not normally be allowed and the condition is intended to ensure that the permission does not run with the land and is in effect a temporary permission. This approach can be seen as being endorsed by Lord Scarman in Westminster CC v Great Portland Estates [1985] A. C. 661 . Personal permissions are in fact granted quite often. Thus in a Ministerial decision ref App/5034/A/81/02199 reported in the Journal of Planning and Environment Law (see [1982] J.P.L. 543), a condition restricting the occupation of the office building known as Queensland House in The Strand, London to occupation by the Government of Queensland, to enable the Greater London Council to have control over the future of the building if the Governor of Queensland gave it up, was successfully imposed. In another case referred to in the same issue of the J.P.L., permission was granted for a storage use solely for the benefit of the then-named occupier, to prevent an increase in traffic which might be generated by the establishment of a haulage-type depot. In practice, personal consents are often granted.

In the case of a planning permission of the kind under discussion here, it is submitted that there would never be any ground on which a personal condition should be discharged; the planning permission would otherwise remain in force indefinitely and the danger of a change of owner or occupier is not going to go away. Temporary consents are another matter, and as mentioned above are specifically envisaged by paragraph 27 of the Guidance where the material consideration relied upon is the lack of deliverable sites in the area. Again, in practice temporary consents are often granted (although it is fair to say that one problem is that even if a consent is temporary, the applicant may decline to leave at the end of the limited period and LPAs are not always keen on taking any form of enforcement action).

In the author’s experience, what LPAs tend to do when, for whatever reason, they believe that consent should be granted, is neither of the above i.e. grant neither a personal nor a temporary consent. Instead, they tend to grant a permanent consent which by its very nature enures for the benefit of the affected land in perpetuity and irrespective of who might in the future come to own or occupy it; whatever considerations led the LPA to consider the applicant deserving of the grant of planning permission may not apply to any future owner or occupier. LPAs tend to brush this aside by imposing a condition in terms of which the following (on the grant of consent for a number of pitches) is a typical example:

“The site shall not be occupied by any persons other than gypsies and travellers as defined in Annexe 1: Glossary of the planning policy for traveller sites (August 2015)”.

The LPA then gives as the reason for the imposition of the condition that “The site lies in an area where an unrestricted caravan site would not normally be permitted”.

This raises a number of issues. The first is enforceability. The author has argued at length in the Journal of Planning and Environment Law [214] J.P.L. 1057 that a condition of this kind does not comply with the Government’s policy on the use of conditions in planning permissions as set out in the Planning Practice Guidance issued under the NPPF ; “the Six Conditions”. Space does not permit a similarly detailed discussion here but what can be said is that it really requires little more than common sense to realise that LPAs are never in practice going to be able to enforce conditions of this kind indefinitely. Generally speaking, once a consent is granted they do not have the will and, in the majority of cases, the resources. What would be required would be a regular inspection of the site and the investigation of the identity and status of its then current owners or occupiers, applying the same evidential standards as the LPA probably did not apply when considering the application in the first place.

In summary, the author believes that many (perhaps the majority) of applications by travellers are mishandled, and that the correct result where the grant of planning permission is justified contrary to the provisions of the development plan by other material considerations is to grant either a personal consent (where personal circumstances are being relied upon) and/or a temporary consent (particularly where the lack of suitable or available sites is the overweighing issue).

Equality and human rights

First, the Equality Act 2010. When an LPA imposes a condition of the kind just described and justifies it by reference to a statement that unrestricted consent for a caravan site would not normally be granted in that location, it is unequivocally discriminating against caravan dwellers who are not travellers: and in most cases the LPA means that no residential consent (including consent for a permanent dwelling for a member of the settled community) would be likely to be granted. This is because, in many cases, the reason consent would not be likely to be granted is that it would infringe a provision of the local development plan which prohibits development in the open countryside. Section 4 of the Act which defines the “protected characteristics” includes “race” and, as has already been seen, Romani gypsies and Irish travellers are separate racial groups (and it would no doubt be argued that “new” travellers are at least a distinct socio-economic group). LPAs are under a duty under the 2010 Act and there is clearly some tension here (acknowledged by planning inspectors) between the legislation and the favourable treatment of travellers as opposed to the settled community. It is only a matter of time before this issue comes before the courts and it will be very interesting to see the result.

Finally, since travellers often rely on Human Rights arguments, it is worth pointing out that the European Convention on Human Rights (included in UK law by the Human Rights Act 1988) confers rights on the settled community as well as on travellers. The two Convention rights which are seen as of most particular relevance to travellers are Articles 8 (“The right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence”) and 14 (which outlaws discrimination on a variety of grounds including race). For as long as the UK remains bound by the Convention, it is not only The Equality Act 2010 which will come into play when this issue is finally and properly examined.

Raymond Cooper is a consultant property lawyer and his website is at www.raymondcooper.co.uk .

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Most Gypsy and Traveller sites in Great Britain are located within 100 metres of major pollutants, shows research

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Katharine Quarmby received funding from Paul Hamlyn Foundation Ideas and Pioneers grant (2021–22).

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Gypsy and Traveller communities are among the more socially excluded groups in the UK . There is a long history of government failures in meeting these groups’ housing needs.

The shortage of sites has resulted in a homelessness problem. Those who do secure pitches on council-managed sites often have to contend with living near potential hazards.

For our recent study , we mapped local authority-managed Gypsy and Traveller sites in Great Britain. Of those sites, 39% were within 50 metres of one or more major pollutants and 54% were within 100 metres.

The effect on residents is significant. As one of our interviewees, Sarah (all names have been changed), put it:

You can’t breathe here. A lot of people have asthma. Lots of babies in the community have poor health. A lot of them have skin rashes. Nobody ever lived past about 50 here. Whatever is coming out is killing people. Lots of people are dying of chest, COPD and cancer.

Mobile homes and horses under a grey sky.

Worsening conditions

Between 2021 and 2022, we mapped 291 Gypsy and Traveller sites across Great Britain, noting their proximity to environmental hazards. These included motorways, A-roads, railway lines, industrial estates and sewage works.

To do so, we used the Caravan Count 2020, which lists all authorised local authority managed sites in England and Wales and a freedom of information request to the Scottish government, which gave us the names and addresses of all the authorised public sites in Scotland.

The study included in-depth case studies, site visits and interviews with 13 site residents (including repeat interviews with five site residents on two sites).

Local newspapers that reported on the highly contested historical and current planning processes were also analysed. Freedom of information requests were sent to local authorities to obtain planning meeting documents and 11 interviews were conducted with representatives of local and national organisations that work with Gypsy and Traveller communities.

When new Gypsy and Traveller sites are proposed by local authorities near existing residential areas, objections come from three main groups: residents, local politicians and local media outlets.

These objections often result in new sites being pushed further to the margins of towns and cities, in places that other communities would not be expected to live.

As a result, sites are often in isolated areas, quite literally on the wrong side of the tracks. They are nestled in among the infrastructure that services the needs of the local settled communities, from major roads to recycling centres.

A close-up shot of a woman's hand.

One of the sites we visited has been in use since the 1970s, despite the fact that, already then, it was located near a waste transfer station. The intervening five decades have only seen conditions on the site worsen.

A chicken slaughterhouse nearby now burns carcasses regularly. The household waste recycling centre has expanded to allow for recycling and incineration of solid waste from commerce and industry.

Lorries and other vehicles now come in and out in large numbers, just metres away from some of the pitches. Residents experience constant noise and vibrations. Mary, who lives on the site, says the sound of the skips being deposited from 5am every morning is like a bomb going off: “It drops so hard it shakes the chalet.”

The air is always heavy with dust. Residents have to keep their windows closed – even in the summer – to keep out the flies. As Jane, who is the fourth generation of her family to live on the site, puts it:

We are living in an industrial area. It’s the air quality, the sand, the dust, the recycling tip is just behind us. The noise is a big problem. There is an incinerator near the slaughterhouse and that’s really bad. And the smell…

Environmental racism

According to the World Health Organization, housing is one of the major factors determining health. The physical conditions of a home – including mould, asbestos, cold, damp and noise – are obvious risk factors. So too, are wider environmental factors, from overcrowding and isolation from services to the relative lack of access to green spaces.

The people we spoke with, including site residents and organisational representatives, highlight the harmful health effects of living on many Gypsy and Traveller sites. This chimes with the government’s own reports , which have found these sites to be unsafe.

Traditional Gypsy caravans parked in a field with a horse.

Research on health inequalities in the UK bears this out. People from Gypsy and Irish Traveller backgrounds report the poorest health and a life expectancy of between ten and 25 years less than the general population. They also have higher rates of long-term illness and conditions that limit everyday life and activities.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 has further constrained Gypsy and Traveller communities by criminalising roadside stopping and forcing people on to transit sites. These are designed for short stays and are often in even worse locations than permanent sites.

This poses a plain threat to traditional nomadic ways of life , from travelling in the summer months to fairs and attending religious gatherings.

Thousands of people rely on these local authority-managed sites, located dangerously near the kind of environmental pollutants that are associated with poor health and premature deaths. The term “environmental racism” is used to refer to how people from minority and low-income communities are disproportionately subjected to environmental harm.

Yvonne MacNamara is the chief executive of the non-profit advocacy organisation, Traveller Movement. She highlights that the inequalities these communities face are systemic. Local authorities, she says, treat Traveller communities “like second-class citizens”.

To one resident’s mind, attitudes within local government to Gypsy and Traveller social housing are clearly discriminatory . As she put it: “They wouldn’t expect anyone but a Traveller to live here.”

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Gypsy, Roma and Traveller artists push boundaries in art exhibition that tours Wales

  • Monday 6 May 2024 at 11:19am

what is a gypsy and traveller definition

A new exhibition that aims to celebrate the vibrant culture of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller artists is also working to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by members of these communities.

The Romani Cultural & Arts Company (RCAC) has launched the latest edition of their Gypsy Makers project - a touring exhibition that features work from artists that the RCAC has commissioned since the inception of the Gypsy Maker initiative 10 years ago in 2014.

It aims to continue to challenge pre-conceptions by increasing knowledge and public awareness of the dynamic, long-standing heritage of artistic endeavour and creativity within Gypsy, Roma & Traveller communities.

Isaac Blake is the founder and Executive Director of then RCAC and explained how it can be a "challenge to get venues that are inclusive of Gypsy, Roma and Travellers."

He continued: "People often say we didn't realise that you could have this sort of quality of work because the assumption is so low.

"The only challenge that I receive is actually getting venues to welcome Gypsy, Roma and Travellers in.

"We've just done a project in Newport recently at The Riverfront theatre and they have a very inclusive policy where over two hundred and fifty Roma people come in to use their space, but it's very rare to get spaces that will welcome Gypsy, Roma and Travellers.

"There is that negative perception of the communities. Ultimately we want to have a mainstream presence, we don't just want to be forgotten and hidden away, we have a vibrant culture that we want to share and celebrate."

The tour also features artist-led workshops which aims to further explain themes within the show and educate audiences.

Daniel Baker is an artist and curator who is currently curating the Gypsy Maker programme for the Romani Culture and Arts Company.

"The programme is unique in commissioning new work from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller artists." He said.

"Unique throughout Europe, throughout the world really.

"I come from a Romani family in Kent. The connections throughout all the different groups around the UK, particularly here in Wales actually are very strong."

He added: "Wales is pioneering for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture in really emphasising funding for the arts. This kind of thing is not happening in other parts of the UK so Wales should be really proud of that."

Dr Rosamaria Kostic Cisneros is an artist and researcher. She is showing screen dance work at the exhibition - two films of dances that she has created.

"It's been two dance films that are representing my Roma dance background and also include my two daughters", she explained.

"Both pieces are inclusive and the hope is that they are accessible - one piece includes BSL embedded in there and there's a bit of looking at the flamenco tradition, but also changing that and trying to challenge some of the traditional ways of doing things."

Dr Rosamaria said she is "really pushing myself as an artist but also pushing gallery spaces to include dance works and screen dance works that are representative of the Roma culture identity."

In addition to this, her films are looking at the environmental climate crisis.

"In the first work, we were looking at deforestation and in the second work we were looking at plastic consumption and microplastics and how and what we can do. And both films are asking us 'what kind of ancestors do we want to be?'

"And that's why my daughters were embedded in that because it's central to who we are as a culture, as a community, our environment. A lot of my work is respecting traditions, honouring the body and thinking about political issues."

She added: "There are always barriers. I've learned to use those barriers to help me challenge people through love and kindness."

The Gypsy Makers Exhibition Tour is available to visit for free at G39 in Cardiff Wednesday to Saturday 11am – 5pm until 25th May, and at The Riverfront in Newport Monday to Saturday 10am – 5pm between 5th June – 27th June.

Find out more about the Gypsy Makers project on Backstage here.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…

what is a gypsy and traveller definition

Gypsy and Traveller family gets green light for new homes near Cambs village

The go ahead has been given to plans to allow up to 12 Gypsy and Traveller families to live on land north of a Cambridgeshire village. The site off First Drove in Burwell already had planning permission for six pitches for Gypsy and Traveller families, but this had not been fully built out. The owner of the land, Thomas Pateman, asked East Cambridgeshire District Council for permission to increase the number of pitches to 12.

Each plot is proposed to include one mobile/chalet home, one touring caravan, and a day room. The planning documents submitted to the district council said: “The site is brownfield and has had many commercial uses over the years, which are visible from the various alterations to the building.

“At present the site is vacant and very untidy, the cold store building is also less than aesthetically pleasing. The previous application was accompanied by land contamination reports to confirm the site is suitable for the use intended. Mr Pateman and his family were all born Gypsy/Travellers, the proposed six additional pitches - 12 pitches in total - will only be occupied by Gypsy/Travellers. It is proposed that Mr Pateman will live on the first plot and act as manager for the site.

Read more: ‘I had sewage flood into my house, the village drains cannot cope’

Read more: Follow the footsteps of Romans along this ancient Cambridgeshire road

"As he owns the site he will take overall responsibility and ensure it remains tidy. He has also endeavoured to take control of the fly tipping issue along the section of First Drove nearest to his development. To the back of the site will be a designated paddock area and pond for use by all 12 pitches, this will also provide a recreational area for children. It is proposed that the existing cold store building will be demolished as part of the proposed development.”

A report prepared by planning officers at the district council said the authority is currently unable to “adequately demonstrate” that it has a five-year supply of pitches for Gypsy and Traveller families. It added that this was a “significant material consideration” in making a decision on the application.

The report said the development would “not significantly detract from the rural and open character” of the area, and was not expected to lead to any “severe harm” in transport terms, or cause any additional noise above what would be expected in a residential area. The application was therefore approved by the district council.

Land off First Drove, Burwell, Cambridgeshire, where permission has been granted for up to 12 Gypsy and Traveller pitches.


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  1. Difference Between Gypsies and Travellers

    The Gypsy people have a unique language which is closely related to the dialects of the Northern Indian subcontinent. Over the centuries, several Gypsy societies arose and also developed their own distinct languages. On the other hand, the Travellers speak a common language called Shelta. Among different Traveller groupings, two dialects are ...

  2. Definitions of Gypsies, Travellers and Travelling Showpeople

    Gypsies and Travellers. For planning purposes Gypsies and Travellers are defined as: "Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family's dependents' educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily or permanently, but excluding members ...

  3. Romani people

    In Britain, many Romani proudly identify as "Gypsies", and, as part of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller grouping, this is the name used to describe all para-Romani groups in official contexts. In North America, the word Gypsy is most commonly used as a reference to Romani ethnicity, though lifestyle and fashion are at times also referenced by ...

  4. Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller ethnicity summary

    This definition for planning purposes includes any person with a nomadic habit, whether or not they might have identified as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller in a data collection. ... The Gypsy or Irish Traveller group had the smallest percentage of people in the highest socio-economic groups. 2.5% were in the 'higher, managerial, administrative ...

  5. The Gypsy Lore Society

    Gypsy and Traveler Groups in the United States. Cale: Spanish Gypsies, or Gitanos, are found primarily in the metropolitan centers of the East and West coasts. A small community of only a few families. English Travelers: Fairly amorphous group, possibly formed along same lines as Roaders (see below), but taking shape already in England before ...

  6. Gypsy Roma and Traveller History

    Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have a rich and diverse culture. Gypsy Roma and Traveller people belong to minority ethnic groups that have contributed to British society for centuries. Their distinctive way of life and traditions manifest themselves in nomadism, the centrality of their extended family, unique languages and entrepreneurial economy.

  7. Gypsies, Roma, Travellers: An Animated History

    Many Roma, Gypsies, and Travellers are engaged in recycling and have been for centuries, long before major environmental concerns. We were also healers and herbalists for the "country people.". Mobility has, for many Roma, been part and parcel of identity. It's "not all wagons and horses," though, and Roma have been engaged with ...

  8. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people (UK)

    Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (abbreviated to GRT) is an umbrella term used in the United Kingdom to represent several diverse ethnic groups which have a shared history of nomadism.The groups include Gypsies, defined as communities of travelling people who share a Romani heritage, resident in Britain since the 16th century; Ethnic Travellers, the traditional travelling people of Ireland and ...

  9. Frequently Asked Questions

    A lot of Gypsy and Traveller families live in bricks and mortar housing permanently and/or are on permanent sites. In fact, the 2011 Census indicated that around ¾ of Gypsies and Travellers live in bricks and mortar accommodation whilst around ¼ live in a caravan or other temporary structure.

  10. PDF Gypsies and Travellers

    4 out of 5 (77%) of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers have experienced hate speech or a hate crime. This ranged from regularly being subject to racist abuse in public to physical assaults. Despite the experience of prejudice being so common for Gypsies, Roma and Traveller (GRT) only 1 out of 5 (13%) sought help.

  11. Gypsies and Travellers

    The decision to change the definition of 'Traveller' for planning related purposes, so that it excludes those who have permanently ceased travelling, has attracted criticism from the community. ... Gypsy and Traveller pupils also have a high rate of school exclusions and report high levels of bullying and racial abuse. Children who are ...

  12. Gypsies' and Travellers' lived experiences, culture and identities

    Similarly, "non-Traveller", and "non-Gypsy" are also used to refer to others outside Gypsy and Traveller communities as is "the settled community", although it is important to note that Gypsies and Travellers may also live in settled accommodation in the wider community, attend schools, colleges and universities, and work in a range ...

  13. PDF The Law Relating to Gypsies and Travellers

    the eviction of Gypsies or Travellers from an unauthorised encampment, the local 5 See footnote 2. 6 In fact the DoE no longer exists and responsibility for Traveller and Gypsy matters lays with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The equivalent in Wales is the identical Welsh Office Circular 76/94. 7 DoE Circular 18/94, para. 6. 8Ibid ...

  14. Definition of Gypsy and Traveller

    Definition of Gypsy and Traveller. Li sa Smith -v- The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and Others [2021] EWHC 1650 (Admin) 17 June 2021. Between 2006 and 2015, planning policies included within the definition of 'Gypsies and Travellers' those who had either temporarily or permanently ceased to travel by ...

  15. Romanichal

    Romanichals (UK: / ˈ r ɒ m ə n ɪ tʃ æ l / US: /-n i-/; more commonly known as English Gypsies) are a Romani subgroup within the United Kingdom and other parts of the English-speaking world. Most Romanichal speak Angloromani, a mixed language that blends Romani vocabulary with English syntax. Romanichals resident in England, Scotland, and Wales are part of the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller ...

  16. House of Commons

    The definition of a Gypsy or Traveller is far from clear-cut. The legal definition of a Gypsy was first set out in the 1968 Caravan Sites Act. This definition, drawn from the case of Mills v Cooper (1967), stated that the term "Gypsy" meant "persons of nomadic habit of life, ...

  17. PDF Planning for Gypsy, Traveller and Showpeople Sites

    The definition of a Gypsy and Traveller site for the purposes of this Circular does not include a dwelling (i.e. housing that falls within Use Class C3 under the Town and Country Planning [Use Classes] Order 1987[as amended]). Those Gypsies and Travellers who wish to live in

  18. Gypsy Definition & Meaning

    Gypsy: [noun] a member of a traditionally itinerant people who originated in northern India and now live chiefly in south and southwest Asia, Europe, and North America.

  19. 'Landmark' court judgement rules that 'gypsy ...

    Planning definition for Traveller sites excludes disabled and elderly Gypsies and Travellers say judges. In a significant victory for Gypsies and Travellers, the Court of Appeal has rejected the Government's use of a "discriminatory" planning definition that determines who gets to live on a Traveller site. The court decision, which has been handed down yesterday nearly three months after ...

  20. Gypsy/Travellers

    The term 'Gypsy/Travellers' refers to distinct groups - such as Roma, Romany Gypsies, Scottish and Irish Travellers - who consider the travelling lifestyle part of their ethnic identity. We are committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for all of Scotland's Gypsy/Travellers, a particularly marginalised group. Actions. We are:

  21. Planning applications by gypsies and travellers

    The definition of "Gypsies and travellers" ... From here on, for brevity, the expression "gypsy status" will be used to mean persons who are within the definition. The Guidance does not say that the gypsy status of applicants for planning permission is the only consideration; it is a material consideration only and needs to be balanced ...

  22. Irish Travellers

    Irish Travellers (Irish: an lucht siúil, meaning the walking people), also known as Pavees or Mincéirs (Shelta: Mincéirí) are a traditionally peripatetic indigenous ethno-cultural group originating in Ireland.. They are predominantly English speaking, though many also speak Shelta, a language of mixed English and Irish origin. The majority of Irish Travellers are Roman Catholic, the ...

  23. Most Gypsy and Traveller sites in Great Britain are located within 100

    Gypsy and Traveller communities are among the more socially excluded groups in the UK. There is a long history of government failures in meeting these groups' housing needs. The shortage of ...

  24. Gypsy, Roma and Traveller artists push boundaries in art exhibition

    The exhibition marks the 10th anniversary of the programme. He added: "Wales is pioneering for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture in really emphasising funding for the arts.

  25. Gypsy and Traveller family gets green light for new homes near Cambs

    We and our partners process data to: Each plot would include a mobile/chalet home, a touring caravan, and a day room, according to the plans.

  26. Pikey

    Pikey (/ ˈ p aɪ k iː /; also spelled pikie, pykie) is an ethnic slur referring to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.It is used mainly in the United Kingdom and in Ireland to refer to people who belong to groups which had a traditional travelling lifestyle. Groups referred to with this term include Irish Travellers, English Gypsies, Welsh Kale, Scottish Lowland Travellers, Scottish Highland ...