Amy Gentle has spoken about the Traveller lifestyle
Amy Gentle says some of the most common misconceptions the 46-year-old spots online are to do with housing, tax, crime and litter.
Amy originates from Berkshire, but frequently travels throughout Derbyshire on her way to visit her husband’s family in Leeds, reports Derbyshire Live.
The mum-of-five started by saying that English Travellers are known as Romani’s, while Irish Travellers are called Pavees.
The group originated from India, but have been in the UK for around 500 years.
The term “Gypsy”, Amy believes, comes from the historic links to the Egyptians.
Here are several other facts that Amy says people might not know about the Travllers’ way of life.
There are around 300,000 Travellers in the UK, with two-thirds living in physical homes, according to the advocacy group, Friends, Farmers and Travellers (FFT).
However, 25,000 have no legal place to stay, as common land is not available to them and there is a shortage of permanent and transit sites.
If Travellers pitch up on private land, this is not a criminal offence, but instead is a civil offence (or tort) of trespass.
It is then up to the landowners, not the police, to ask them to leave should they wish, though some may be happy for Travellers to stay.
According to FFT, many Travellers were pushed onto the roadsides by The Caravan Sites Act of 1960, which aimed to control caravan sites.
This made it harder for members of the community to buy stay on small plots of land without a licence, and even those staying on the private land of farmers they were working for could no longer do so, meaning they had to go elsewhere.
Amy said: “Councils rule that they must travel three months out of 12 or they will lose their Traveller status for planning purposes.
So, even if a Traveller does not want to travel, they have to go on the road if they want to keep their identity.
“It’s stupid, it’s absolutely ridiculous. That is why you might see a peak in Travellers travelling in the summer months, as that is when they choose to go, and there may be a bigger influx as Travellers take their children out during the six-week school holiday. Even if they don’t want to travel, they have to.”
Amy owns her own property in Berkshire and has done for 14 years, but sometimes travels for more than three months of the year.
When she travels, she takes two caravans for her, her husband and their five children.
In 1968, the law was changed to force councils to provide accommodation for Travellers coming to and staying in within their jurisdiction, but this was repealed in 1994.
This removed the need for authorities to provide sites, and increased their powers to evict unauthorised campers.
This means that many Travellers now buy permanent accommodation to follow the rules.
But Amy explained that, as well as difficulties getting planning permission, this conflicts with the Traveller identity and way of life, which historically has been oriented around moving from one place to another for work.
In 2015, the government released its Planning Policy for Traveller Sites, which said that “local authorities should make their own assessment of need” for sites.
Sites are only required if a council can prove there is demand.
The aim was to reduce tensions between the Traveller and settled communities, create more private Traveller provision, and to allow Travellers to access better education, healthcare and jobs.
It recently created a £10 million Traveller Site Fund to help councils create sites, in addition to the £11.5 billion Affordable Homes Programme for the same purpose.
Amy has busted some of the myths surrounding the Traveller lifestyle
Amy says the myth that Travellers do not pay tax is “absolute rubbish”.
She clarified that Travellers cannot pay council tax if they are not afforded a permanent place to stay, such as a dedicated Traveller site and, like everyone else, must pay for utility bills and living costs.
She said: “Those that are on the road can’t pay council tax as they are not given the opportunity to pay council tax.
“It would be a privilege for most Travellers to be in a position to pay council tax, but it isn’t given to us.
“Every other tax, of course, applies to us like it does for anyone else. But council tax doesn’t, because how can it?”
A spokesperson for Derby City Council confirmed that any Traveller staying at its permanent site does pay council tax, and Amy added that fees for utilities and any other bills need to be paid if staying at a transit site elsewhere.
She also added that Travellers may often seem flashy or rich, but this is because they may not have a mortgage to pay, and their caravans and other vehicles also depreciate in value, like everything else.
Litter and hygiene
Amy acknowledged that there is a belief that Travellers frequently leave dirt and rubbish behind.
But she said this goes against the community’s traditions and values, and that she always takes rubbish with her.
She said: “There is the myth that Travellers leave rubbish, are all dirty, and destroy the green spaces. But Romani and Irish Travellers have very high standards of cleaning.
“We’re extremely strict on cleanliness. A Traveller woman’s pride and joy is her home and hygiene is extremely important, it has been passed down through generations.”
FFT said: “Travellers stopping on unofficial encampments may be moved on in the middle of the night and thus not be given the chance to clean up after themselves. Leaving areas in a mess only worsens social tension and local communities negative perceptions of Gypsies and Travellers.”
Traditionally, Travellers worked on farms or worked in manual professions, such as blacksmithing.
After the Second World War, they helped to reconstruct many parts of the country which were damaged by the conflict.
Many now live in and around urban centres, as they rely on this for trade and provisions, but this means there are fewer places for them to pitch up.
Amy has rubbished the myth that Travellers do not wish to work or are lazy.
She said: “There is a myth that we don’t contribute, and we have never contributed.
“But traditionally, before machinery took over, we were the backbone to farmers.
“That is where we went Travelling, from one farm to another for seasonal work, and we were welcomed.”
There is a long-standing perception that crime increases when Travellers arrive in an area, but Amy says this too is an unhelpful stereotype.
She said: “I don’t know why we are not liked. With crime, there are no statistics out there to say that crime goes up when Travellers are in the area.
“But it seems like when we arrive, people say ‘lock your doors’ and similar, when there is crime in the settled community that people seem blind to.”
FFT said: “There is no evidence to suggest that crime rates go up when Travellers move into an area.
“All communities have a minority of members who may commit crime, Gypsies and Travellers are no different from anybody else.
“Media reports and images are often inaccurate and discriminatory and unfortunately, for Gypsies and Travellers, people usually believe what they read in the mass media and prejudices are formed or compounded.”