A year on from the eviction of Irish Travellers from the site at Dale Farm in Essex, what has been achieved?
The eviction cost £7.2 million. The funding for this action was provided from general taxation, as well as the coffers of Basildon Council tax payers.
The result, some 86 families were moved, most though not going that far. Some moved next door to park up on the plots of neighbours on the legal site. Another 20 plus families sit on an approach road to the original site.
So the “problem” of the travellers at Dale farm has not been solved but simply moved next door. The council recently served eviction orders on the 20 plus vans parked up on the access road, with the local families now gearing up for another expensive confrontation at sometime in the next few weeks.
The cleared site resembles in the words of the former local parish priest Dan Mason “a battle site from the First World War.” Huge coffin like holes have been dug, most of the dwellings crushed and scattered around the area.
Piles of religious statues, so important to the devoutly Catholic travellers, lie abandoned around the site. A few homes remain, isolated amongst this scene of devastation.
A recent visit by the all party parliamentary group for Gypsies and Travellers found the area rat-infested and covered with human excrement. They found it poses a health hazard. Impetigo, chickenpox and diarrhea have spread through the encampment, with children affected by vomiting bouts.
The MPs report found that many travelers have reported health complaints due to these unhygienic and unsuitable living conditions. A number of travelers suffer mental and physical illness.
The MPs expressed concern that families have no access to toilets. Some even had no electricity and sanitation was judged to be poor.
Many of the women at Dale Farm were prescribed antidepressants before the eviction and, more than a year later, are still on them.
The report said that mothers and young children were particularly vulnerable, with one baby born at the roadside encampment two weeks ago. The midwife visits to women living on the temporary site were suspended for eight months.
"The delegation found that many of the residents are highly vulnerable and have serious conditions such as Parkinson's disease, dementia, osteoporosis, Crohn's disease, bowel cancer, Down's syndrome etc," said a statement from the MPs.
There are also concerns that the Environment Agency may have found asbestos on the site, after the demolition of various properties. The Environment Agency report is imminent.
What has happened at Dale Farm has achieved nothing. It epitomizes the public order approach to the problems of the travelling community. The expensive action 12 months ago, succeeded only in moving the problem literally yards down the road.
Dale Farm amounts to a microcosm of the problems of the travelling population countrywide.
The last Labour Government took steps toward identifying potential sites around the country, with local authorities being encouraged to provide facilities that would mean some resolution to the problem.
The present government seems to have returned to the straight public order approach, which just amounts to criminalizing the travelling community, simply moving them on from one site to another. As long as there is no uniform obligation on local authorities to provide sites, then few will – where is the incentive?
In the absence of a universal obligation, the few authorities that do provide sites will simply become magnets for the whole travelling community of the UK.
Something needs to be done to address the problems of the travelling community. A new more tolerant approach that seeks to find equitable solutions between travelling and settled populations must mark the way forward. A statutory obligation needs to be placed on local authorities to identify and provide a certain number of sites. Health, education and welfare support for travelling communities also needs to be improved.
It is a real stain on the UK that in the 21st century this particular ethnic minority should remain very much second class citizens in a divided land.