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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.


5. Examples of Support in Practice During Lockdown

During the lockdown period, different Local Authorities have used the Framework to develop approaches that meet local needs. Some examples are set out below:

Example 1: Dundee

One Local Authority is using the framework to support a roadside encampment in the area. The land the encampment is on is privately owned and normally the landowner would look to take court action to move encampments on. Referring to the framework, the Local Authority negotiated with the landowner and were able to encourage the encampment to stay as per lockdown guidelines. Portaloos, showers, drinking water, weekly food parcels and refuge collections have been provided. To allay concerns about catching the virus, while out locally for essentials, masks and gloves have been provided to the encampment through the "Health Box" funding.

The framework has been used to include the community in the local emergency response and has kept them at the forefront of any decisions the Local Authority is making about additional support required for the local community in general. The regular contact and support provided has enabled a greater level of engagement with a group who return to the area on an annual basis. The Local Authority are hopeful that in future years, the ground work and support that has been offered will continue to encourage positive relationships with the group.

Example 2: Dumfries & Galloway

Another Local Authority has used the framework to inform their operational approach for the permanent Gypsy/Traveller sites they provide and to facilitate additional support in terms of food parcels, financial assistance and welfare support. The framework also informed processes to create an environment to support self-isolation and social distancing and the capacity of the sites has been temporarily reduced to allow families to maintain safe distancing.

The Local Authority was pro-active in implementing procedures to ensure they were able to support Gypsy/Travellers during the pandemic. It was quickly recognised that there would be a negative impact on household income and financial resilience. Actions identified to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the Gypsy/Traveller community included:

  • Maintaining a consistent single point of contact through the Gypsy/Traveller Liaison Officer (GTLO). This provides families with a consistent Local Authority presence and ensures any concerns or additional support needs are addressed as they arise
  • Suspending electricity charges for a period extending up to 3 months
  • Suspending pitch fees for a period extending up to 3 months
  • Ensuring effective support is available for the most vulnerable on sites and those who are on the shielding list
  • Providing access to support organisations and facilitating delivery of essential provision
  • Maintained sufficient free space on site to allow families to 'spread' out and improve the ability for social distancing.
  • Providing up-dated information to residents in relation to COVID-19.
  • Identifying a suitable location where we could effectively support families living roadside without access to essential facilities

Example 3: Scottish Borders

One Local Authority worked with a local caravan park that had closed, due to lockdown, to reopen it for the benefit of 4 Gypsy/Traveller families living roadside. This enabled the provision of separate portable toilets for each caravan, shower facilities, electric hook-ups, free electricity, rubbish bins and clean running water.

Example 4: East Ayrshire

A Local Authority, that had already agreed to pilot Negotiated Stopping and therefor having had measures in place to support basic provisions to encampments, identified a local suitable hard-standing area for Gypsy/Travellers who needed to self-isolate. The Scottish Government provided portaloos for use at the site and these are serviced twice weekly. Where families on an encampment were experiencing financial difficulties it was agreed that "health boxes" would be provided alongside the basic provisions of water, portaloos and regular waste collection. It was also agreed that as the Local Authority does not have a permanent site, temporary bricks and mortar accommodation would be offered to families living on roadside encampments if this was preferable.

Example 5: Moray

The Local Authorities Unauthorised Encampments Officer (UEO) has been visiting the encampments on a weekly basis. Each visit consists of ensuring the residents awareness of up to date restrictions regarding Covid-19 and checking clarity and identifying any vulnerable or infected people within the encampment. As per the guidance, information has been supplied on shielding, social distancing, information contained on the NHS inform website, and the Gypsy/Traveller Covid impact Facebook page allowing the encampment to make decisions and adhere to positioning of caravans and removal of waste.

Toilets have been provided to encampments and bins have been issued through LA's waste services team and are uplifted on a regular basis.

Identification of suitable land was carried out by the UEO, reducing conflict with the settled community and allowing better access to the provision of facilities.

Discussion around provision of temporary accommodation/housing options advice, financial help (via Scottish welfare fund) and education materials took place.

Example 6: Perth and Kinross

During the pandemic Perth and Kinross Council fully embraced supporting the gypsy traveller communities both on our own sites, private sites and on unauthorised encampments. This included welfare check calls, the provision of coal, logs, electrical and gas top ups where residents were self-isolating. Through working in partnership with Connecting Scotland we have been able to secure devices with 24 months of data provided to support residents to become digitally included.

In response to a COVID positive situation on a private site which also included an unauthorised encampment, a dedicated multi-agency group was established. This included representation from Housing, Environment, Education and Children's Services, Social Work, Community Learning and Development and third sector agencies such as MECCOP. Through a detailed Action Plan, the Group delivered a tailored package of support to the residents which included the provision of additional sanitation facilities, access to services and support from healthcare, including assistance with covid testing and accessing vaccinations. Residents were also provided with a single point of contact who linked in with the multi-agency group to ensure any new support needs or issues were quickly addressed.

We have had several large unauthorised encampments within Perth and Kinross throughout the pandemic and a similar approach to that outlined earlier has been taken. Dedicated officers continue to maintain contact with residents, and we have provided any support required to enable residents to stick to the "stay put" message, for example access to bottled water and access to shower facilities where needed. Regular contact is maintained with all unauthorised encampments.

Example 7: Vaccination – Assertive Outreach Programme

NHS Forth Valley COVID-19 Vaccination Team worked in partnership with the Scottish Ambulance Service and their three Local Authorities: Clackmannanshire Council, Falkirk Council and Stirling Council to deliver the COVID-19 vaccination to homeless people, Gypsy/Travellers and asylum/refugee communities. Across a three-day period, the mobile vaccination unit was set-up at four locations. Staff reached out to eligible individuals and liaised with support workers to share information, arrange appointments and support attendance. Individuals were CHI matched (or CHI generated) and were preloaded to the Turas Vaccine Management Tool prior to the session. Drop-in was also allowed each day which enabled the team to vaccinate some individuals opportunistically.

Over the course of the three days,105 individuals were vaccinated; four new GP registrations were facilitated; 11 Take-Home-Naloxone kits were distributed; urgent Mental Health support was arranged; and people were signposted to services such as Foodbanks, Addiction Support and Financial Aid.

The project identified that, out of those vaccinated, only 29.5% would have attended for vaccination following receipt of the national vaccination invitation letter whilst 6% refused the offer of the vaccine due to beliefs about AstraZeneca or 5G.

Whilst both the attendance rates and engagement on each of the days were really positive and higher than anticipated, many barriers and challenges were encountered, these included:

Population Barriers

  • No fixed address/transient populations;
  • No GP registration or CHI number;
  • Ability to give informed consent;
  • Preconceived beliefs and ideologies;
  • Language and literacy barriers;
  • Inability to cope with 'mainstream' vaccination centres.

NHS Board Challenges

  • Competing staff workloads from different sectors and organisations;
  • Planning for 2nd dose delivery and need to link with other boards /services to account for movement;
  • Public perception - although external communication about the project was minimised, some local people were unhappy about it.

Key Learning

  • The need to define relevant stakeholders early on and ensure clear requests with return dates;
  • To utilise the strong relationships shared between Service Users and their Support/Key Workers to facilitate information;
  • To ensure information is available in a variety of formats and languages;
  • To consider ways in which we can adapt our larger vaccination hubs to best accommodate the needs of our local populations such as quieter hours and more flexible appointment options;
  • The importance of gaining the trust of community leaders (official and perceived) to help disperse information and encourage uptake;
  • The platforms we use for sharing information - for example, TikTok was found to be the most popular source for finding information in relation to COVID-19, so the consideration of tailoring our communication efforts to reflect this;
  • The importance of taking the opportunity to gather feedback and input from communities about the vaccination programme and how to ensure it is as patient-centred as possible.

Example 8: Framework to guide response of local Infection Management Teams to support Gypsy/Travellers

Introduction

This framework, developed by the ScotPHN team at Public Health Scotland, is to assist local IMTs to plan and support Gypsy/Traveller's living on public, private and roadside camps to improve consistency of response to positive COVID-19 cases across Scotland. A consistent response would provide confidence to the community. Gypsy/Traveller Contacts for each Local Authority can be requested from dominique@cosla.gov.uk. A draft template to assist further with planning and guiding a response is at Appendix 1 (this is based on a template developed by Perth & Kinross)

Identification

  • Due to the stigma and discrimination many Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland experience they less likely to disclose their identity during the Test & Protect process
  • Contact tracers can use postcodes to identify those living on public sites, see addresses below
  • Local Authority Gypsy/Traveller Liaison Officers (GTLO) are trusted and well-known to the community; GTLO may well know which Travellers, in their local area, have tested positive for COVID-19. See below for a list of GTLO.

Leadership and Support

  • Each Health Protection Team (HPT) should identify a lead for Gypsy/Travellers; this lead should make themselves known to the GTLO and local primary care teams where sites are located. They should be familiar with this guidance, https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-supporting-gypsy-traveller-communities/
  • The HPT lead should understand the importance of respecting the community's right to privacy, as well as understanding the importance of family life and people's fears around illness. For more information they should complete the short TURAS e-learning module 'Raising Awareness of Gypsy/Traveller communities'.
  • The HPT lead should work closely with a trusted intermediary, possibly the GTLO or third sector representative to ensure anyone living on a site who tests positive is able to follow Test & Protect guidance and knows about any support they may need including financial grants, gloves, aprons, face-masks, disinfectant etc.
  • The HPT lead should offer site visits, brokered by trusted intermediaries; these visits would identify what support the community might want, as well as providing further information about Test & Protect, self-isolation and FACTS if required.
  • Where possible those visiting the sites should already be familiar to those who live there, e.g. Keep Well, health visiting or local primary care teams
  • Contact number/s (in hours and out of hours) should be provided to the community so that they can call someone for information and advice, especially if they start to feel more unwell. It is important to offer people the choice of face to face communication, or by phone; don't rely on providing information digitally.

Appendix 1 to Example 8 Template

Purpose of template:

To ensure that community members impacted (where known) receive support, advice and assistance in relation to isolation requirements and that where required any financial, welfare, health and well-being or accommodation needs are met in the short, medium and long term as required.

Risks/Issues:

Risk 1: There is a risk that our approach to supporting community members has the potential to stigmatise the individual group and cause or add to any community tensions

Risk 2: The current Test and Protect system approach – where an individual has been identified as being in "close contact" with a confirmed case - they are issued with a text message asking them to contact the National Contact Centre and agree to their information being shared with the Local Authority. There is a perceived or identified lack of trust between the identified community and statutory bodies like Local Authorities and the NHS. Generally, all community groups will be reluctant to answer a telephone call from an unknown number. However, this is heightened within the specific community group and there is a real risk therefore that we will not be able to fully understand the impact of the pandemic and more importantly support the community group.

Risk 3: The inability to have access to impacted household information, means that we are unable to undertake a targeted welfare approach and are reliant on the individual household members agreeing to their data being shared.

Risk 4: There are additional potential inequality issues which have been identified which could include:

  • Literacy
  • Mistrust/distrust of authorities (perceived and/or reality),
  • Limited access/capability around digital means (that barrier could be reinforced in current times with remote set ups etc),
  • Limited access to banking/online (again could be an issue for self-isolation and could pose a risk),
  • Less favourable working conditions (self-employment/cash in hand work/zero hours work), may feel the pressure to continue working etc.

Risk 5: Given the current 5-tier system in place across Scotland there is a risk that existing support networks for example MECOPP will not be able to travel to support the community.

Purpose / Desired Outcomes Key Actions Comments on progress
To ensure that community members have up to date information on COVID-19, support available, relevant contact avenues and in particular track and trace    
To ensure that those identified through the existing test and protect system are provided with a more in-depth welfare check    
Supporting households to self-isolate within unauthorised/roadside encampments    
To ensure those individuals required to self-isolate are aware of support available    
For those households included on the track and trace list to provided direct contact to undertake welfare checks    
Potential for an increase in confirmed cases within the community    
To determine if ratio, distance of residents to and access to facilities is appropriate for infection control and meets Scottish Government Guidance.    
Concern re potential for community tension    
Need to ensure messaging and general approach to incident does not single out or identify the community involved at all levels within all organisations    
Concern as to potential for adherence to lock-down restrictions by community in relation to attendance at funerals    
Need to ensure there is a clear link and dialogue with Public Health to allow us to respond effectively    
Need to ensure messaging, language and general approach to incident does not single out the community involved    
Need to ensure any communication being issued does not conflict with any information being shared by ECS    
Ensure that all staff involved in any community response are suitably trained/skilled    
Potential escalation of community tension    

Contacts:

COSLA
Dominique Barr
Gypsy/Traveller Policy and Participation Officer
dominique@cosla.gov.uk
07793072971

Eloise Nutbrown
Policy Manager (Migration Population and Diversity)
eloise@cosla.gov.uk

Scottish Government

Dorothy Ogle
Private Housing Services Team Leader
Dorothy.ogle@gov.scot

Aqeel Ahmed
Race Equality Policy Manager
Aqeel.Ahmed@gov.scot

Diane Steele
Senior Policy Adviser – Gypsy/Travellers Accommodation
Diane.Steele@gov.scot

Contact

Email: gypsytravellers@gov.scot

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