Information

Coronavirus (COVID-19) supporting Gypsy/Travellers: framework for local authorities

This framework, created jointly with COSLA, is for local authorities and partners supporting Gypsy/Traveller communities whilst Scotland transitions to living with COVID-19. This framework replaces all previous versions.


1. Background and Introduction

This framework is intended to:

  • ensure that support is available at an appropriate level as we continue to manage the public health risks of Covid-19; and
  • contribute to promoting equality, tackling disadvantage and delivery of human rights among Gypsy/Travellers.

The unequal impact of Covid 19 on ethnic minorities is well established. Individuals and communities who already experience the greatest inequality in society are the ones who are most negatively affected by health impacts, economic impacts and limitations on services.

This framework was first published on 7 April 2020 in response to the immediate challenges presented by the first lockdown. A revised version, published in June 2020, provided updated information, as restrictions were lifted. We know that there will continue to be risks from the virus for the foreseeable future and that some of the new ways of living together, working and delivering services are likely to remain in place. Scotland's Strategic Framework Update, published in February 2022, assesses where we are in the pandemic and sets out Scotland's approach to managing COVID-19 and its associated harms effectively for the long term as we prepare for a calmer phase of the pandemic. In this phase, there is an opportunity to embed approaches which allow Gypsy/Traveller communities to follow public health advice and access the facilities and services that they need on an ongoing basis.

1.1 Purpose of the document

This document provides a framework to assist Local Authorities and their partners, including the NHS and the third sector, to make decisions about the local public health response and support that can be put in place for Gypsy/Travellers as we continue to manage the risks of COVID-19 and wider impacts of the pandemic. The Framework forms part of the joint Gypsy/Traveller Action Plan, Improving the Lives of Gypsy/Travellers, now extended to October 2022, which has the support of the Scottish Government and all 32 Local Authorities. It is also in line with and builds on the existing national guidance on Managing Unauthorised Encampments.

This work is also part of the Scottish Government's public health response to COVID-19 as it aims to protect the health of individual people in marginalised groups and to support the public health measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Local Authorities should draw on the advice of their Chief Social Work Officers, Heads of Housing, Joint Board Chief Officers, equalities officers, internal resilience teams, and NHS Directors of Public Health as well as referring to up to date public health advice on NHS inform. They will also want to ensure that their response to Gypsy/Travellers takes full advantage of various other means of support being developed and delivered both nationally and locally in response to COVID-19.

It is anticipated that support for Gypsy/Travellers should be discussed on a multi-agency basis locally, for example through Local Resilience Partnerships, and escalated as necessary.

1.2 Leadership and Strategic Direction

On Friday 21 March 2020, COSLA Group Leaders unanimously agreed that Gypsy/Travellers living roadside should be supported through the Covid 19 outbreak, including with access to basic sanitation and services – toilets, water, bins and wash facilities. This position, and the work of Local Government and partners to implement it, is helping to ensure that public health and poverty mitigation measures in place to address COVID-19 are accessible to Gypsy/Travellers. Whilst the provision of support and local resilience planning is a local decision, there is clear political agreement that the response to COVID-19 should not discriminate and needs to focus on minority ethnic communities who face additional vulnerabilities.

On Friday 25 June 2021, COSLA Leaders reconsidered support for roadside encampments and agreed that local authority support for Gypsy/Travellers should continue to align with a public health-based assessment of needs and that the following underpinning principles should guide local decisions on sanitation and enforcement action:

  • That people should not be moved on from a temporary encampment if they don't have another encampment to go to where they can access sanitation and safe living conditions; and
  • That sanitation needs to be available/accessible to people living on roadside encampments who need it – albeit with local discretion on how that is provided e.g. it can be provided roadside or an appropriate place can be provided for people to stop which gives them access to sanitation.

The updated Framework is designed to help to deliver this and to support local authorities to make decisions about the support that should be provided.

1.3 Principles for Supporting Encampments

As we learn to live with COVID 19, we need to ensure that support arrangements provide an appropriate level of protection for the encampment and the wider community and that this approach remains as consistent as possible.

We see ongoing priorities as:

  • A safe place to live – there is an ongoing need for suitable stopping places for people living roadside and good quality, accessible, affordable site provision to protect public health as well as to fulfil our equality and human rights duties. Provision is particularly important for families with children and people with health and social care needs in addition to families who may face higher risks of financial insecurity and low income at this time and/or have less stable access to sanitation and safe living conditions. The Gypsy/Traveller Accommodation Fund has been established and an Interim Site Design Guide published, to support site development, in line with the intention to support Gypsy/Travellers to realise their right to an adequate home;
  • Access to Sanitation– making sure people have access to the facilities they need to stay healthy and safe, including access to toilets, water and waste facilities. The type of support provided to an encampment and the length of time it is provided for should enable people to comply with public health advice or restrictions and respond to identified needs within the household. Where there is a Covid 19 outbreak on a camp, additional provision may be required;
  • Communication and Information – to provide the Community with health advice and the relevant information on Test and Protect, as it adapts to be proportionate to the requirements of future phases. Communication should be accessible and relevant to the Gypsy/Traveller lifestyle. This includes improved digital access to allow Gypsy/Travellers who will need to be supported to access services which are increasingly being provided online;
  • Access to services – multi-agency supports for Gypsy/Travellers including access to and engagement with wider public services including NHS services, education, employability support and advice services such as income maximisation, will be even more important for addressing inequalities faced by Gypsy/Travellers. This includes managing risks to service provision during periods when services are under pressure/ experiencing higher staff shortages;
  • Prioritising the most vulnerable families - The local authority should prioritise the provision of support for people who have greater vulnerability, for example:
    • encampments that are living permanently roadside and do not have an alternative safe place to go.
    • where there are particular health and social care needs among, older people, children, pregnant women, disabled individuals and their families, or others living on the camp; and
  • Collaborative working -Local Authorities may wish to consider working together to ensure that support can be made available. For example, if there is a potentially suitable location for an encampment or a more appropriate support offer in a neighbouring Local Authority area, councils should engage with each other to establish any options and then liaise with families to discuss alternative offers of support. There will be a continued need to support liaison with encampments as well as with the wider community to ensure access to public health information for people living on encampments and reduce any community tensions e.g. liaison with private landowners and settled residents

In delivering this and the position agreed by COSLA Leaders, Local Authority approaches to supporting Gypsy/Travellers should be guided by:

  • Human rights and public health principles. COVID-19 continues to present a risk to Gypsy/Travellers so there is a continued need to support them in line with public health and human rights duties and principles and statutory Equality and Fairer Scotland duties; and
  • Participation and engagement: A core principle to guide decisions in all circumstances is the need to engage with Gypsy/Travellers directly to understand their particular circumstances and what responses are needed to keep people safe.

As well as access to water and sanitation to meet basic health needs, the work that Local Authorities and their partners do across a wide range of areas contributes to Gypsy/Travellers realising their rights - providing safe stopping places, ensuring assistance is in place for people who contract Covid, providing additional support to protect the rights of people with disabilities, older people and young children. Gypsy/Travellers have the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health which is supported by health and social care services which are accessible, available, appropriate and high quality. Access to these services will support people to have good mental well-being, reduce the use of and harm from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and ensure that people can eat well, have a healthy weight and are physically active. People should also be supported to exercise their cultural lifestyle choices and respecting different cultural needs and requirements as far as practically possible.

1.4 Funding for delivery

The support that local authorities are able to provide is contingent on available funding and will need to be determined locally. Scottish Government has provided £25 million flexible funding to support households experiencing financial insecurity over the Winter in 2021-22. The purpose of the flexible funding is to enable local authorities to support wellbeing by preventing and responding to financial insecurity. Guidance to assist local decision making in deploying this resource is available: Financial insecurity: guidance to local authorities over winter 2021-2022 - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)

It is recommended that local authorities use some of their allocation of this fund to implement the framework, alongside any other local sources of funding that may be available.

Local Authorities have been asked to return monitoring forms detailing the use of this fund to foodinsecurityteam@gov.scot by Friday 29 April 2022. Local Authorities are encouraged to clearly record within their returns any circumstances where these funds are used to provide support to Gypsy/Travellers.

Working with partners in the third sector, we have provided over £100,000 to support digital inclusion efforts. Thousands of families and young people have benefited through bespoke training to access vital services via our partners at MECOPP, Article 12 and STEP. MECOPP has been awarded £453,646 of core funding for 3 years to deliver support for Gypsy/Traveller communities in a wide range of areas. STEP has also been awarded £500,000 of core funding for 3 years to support young Gypsy/Travellers with their education and ensure they achieve their potential and positive destinations.

The Scottish Government is supporting a number of health related work programmes in partnership with MECOPP, Progress in Dialogue and Scottish Public Health Network to tackle the health inequalities experienced by many Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland. These include; Community Health Matters which recruits and trains members of Gypsy/Traveller Communities to improve the health and well-being of fellow Gypsy/Travellers; Mental Health Matters which is piloting support to Gypsy/Traveller families to improve mental health and well-being, as well as a programme to tackle and raise awareness of the impact of hate crime, stigma and discrimination on mental health and well-being.

1.5 Policy Context - Why Gypsy/Travellers are at Increased Risk and Need Additional Support

Gypsy/Travellers face some specific additional risks and vulnerabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic that are important to consider within local resilience plans and which may make it difficult for them to limit virus spread and comply with public health guidelines. These include:

  • Overcrowding in trailers, and between trailers, and sharing of toilets, washing and kitchen facilities;
  • Limited access to space for self-isolation;
  • For those living roadside, reliance on toilet/washing facilities, for example in leisure centres and retail parks, some of which may have reduced access due to the pandemic;
  • Hostile attitudes from settled communities towards encampments, causing people to move from place to place, sometimes with difficulty in finding a safe location to move to. This results in challenges in accessing employment and services e.g to book and take-up vaccination appointments;
  • Difficulties keeping up to date on changing public health messages, due to literacy or digital exclusion issues as well as fear of engagement with and trust in authorities, including challenges in registering with some GP Practices, lack of awareness of and access to other community healthcare services such as dentistry, eye care (optometry) and Pharmacy; and
  • A higher number of underlying health conditions, potentially resulting in more serious illness.

Gypsy/Traveller communities also face additional issues including racism and discrimination, poverty and barriers to accessing mainstream services. Gypsy/Travellers are:

  • more often self-employed workers, often in lower paid trades. They therefore face significant financial insecurity and risks as a result of loss of income if unable to work. They may also have less experience/be less able to provide the evidence needed to make a benefits claim, including Universal Credit, and the Scottish Welfare Fund, as well as wider services which identify and assist vulnerable groups, such as, disability benefits and Carers Allowance and support.
  • understood to have higher risks of poor mental health and suicide. They may struggle to maintain their health and wellbeing if they are living in houses and will be unable to travel as part of their cultural and nomadic lifestyle during this period;
  • more likely to face exclusions to educational services and support, for example children being missed from educational supports due to being unable to attend school consistently and/or if they do not have digital access on sites or related support to navigate digital resources;
  • more likely to be unbanked and therefore be reliant on cash, which some shops are moving away from;
  • less likely to have food storage facilities – or the financial resources - to be able to stock up and plan ahead; and
  • more likely to be fuel poor due to low level insulation in trailers and amenity blocks and be in need of regular card top ups or access to gas or liquid fuel.

The combined impact of all of these factors is a risk of extreme poverty. Whilst people living on public sector sites are likely to be connected to support via their Gypsy/Traveller Liaison Officers, site managers or other Local Authority or health and social care officers, this may not be the case for those living on private sites, or for those living roadside or in houses.

1.6 Feedback and Review

This Framework will apply for as long Covid 19 presents a significant public health risk. There are some examples of practice in support for Gypsy/Travellers which, together with the evidence gathered during the Negotiated Stopping pilot, can inform an approach to providing support going forward, depending on local circumstances. Examples are at section 6 below.

Local Authorities are asked to provide regular updates on what is happening in their area to dominique@cosla.gov.uk. If other's have comments on the framework or its operation, please email gypsytravellers@gov.scot

Contact

Email: gypsytravellers@gov.scot

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