Ministerial Working Group on Gypsy/Travellers minutes: October 2018

Minutes of the third meeting of the ministerial working group on Gypsy/Travellers held on 4 October 2018, focusing on reducing poverty and financial exclusion.

Attendees and apologies


  • Christina McKelvie, Minister for Older People and Equalities (Chair)
  • Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Business, Fair Work & Skills
  • Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Local Government, Housing & Planning
  • Joe FitzPatrick MSP, Minister for Public Health, Sport & Wellbeing


  • Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Children & Young People

Guest speakers

  • Kaliani Lyle, Independent Race Equality Adviser and Deputy Chair of the Poverty & Inequality Commission
  • Virginia Francis, West of Scotland Gypsy/Traveller Forum
  • Mary Jean Williamson, West of Scotland Gypsy/Traveller Forum


Items and actions

1. Welcome, introductory remarks

Ms McKelvie welcomed Ministers and guest speakers to the third meeting of the MWG which will focus on poverty and financial exclusion.

Ms McKelvie is keen to maintain the momentum created by the group already, and invited each Minister to give a brief overview of how far the Scottish Parliament’s Inquiry recommendations have been met within their portfolio, and what areas still need to be progressed. 

2. Progress against committee recommendations based on portfolio returns: next steps

Jamie Hepburn: The ‘offer’ of employability programme and support is good, but there needs to be more outreach to build trust with the community, and enable people to engage with and access services. 

Joe FitzPatrick: While there is some good work in local areas, awareness of and access to a range of health and social care services continues to be an issue and we need to test flexible ways of delivering services. Greater cultural awareness and strong leadership across the NHS is key.

Kevin Stewart: current actions in housing/planning, include:

  • ongoing work through the Scottish Housing Regulator to ensure all sites meet minimum standards, including energy efficiency
  • amendments to the Planning Bill to help meet the accommodation needs of Gypsy/Travellers
  • Strengthening the voice of Gypsy/Travellers in the planning system
  • Looking at how Gypsy/Traveller sites are funded

Education officials, on behalf of Maree Todd: While we have met most of the recommendations relating to Education, we don’t feel that they have delivered change. 

We will revise and strengthen our current approach using flexible learning, to engaging Gypsy/Traveller communities for the long term. We will support schools to understand the culture and tradition of travelling families. And we will explore what more we can do to improve access to Early Learning and Childcare/Further Education/Higher Education. 

3. Focus on tackling poverty and financial exclusion 

Christina McKelvie asked Kaliani Lyle for her assessment of progress to date, and her advice for the MWG going forward. 

Kaliani Lyle [download the full text of Kaliani Lyle's presentation at the bottom of this page]: 

While some examples of recent developments demonstrate that progress/change is possible when different approaches are taken, overall there is little evidence that policy responses to the recommendations in the two Scottish Parliament Inquiry Reports have had a positive impact on the Gypsy/Traveller community. 

The MWG must ensure that Scottish Government policies/services in particular those designed to alleviate poverty and inequality are a) reaching b) meeting the needs of this community: it won’t happen automatically. 

One way to do this would be to adopt the general principles that the Poverty & Inequality Commission set out in its advice to the Scottish Government in relation to the Child Poverty Delivery Plan and apply them to the four MWG workstreams. 

Any proposed actions should then be able to identify: 1) what difference will this action / policy make to the circumstances of Gypsy/Traveller communities and 2) what needs to be done differently to ensure that it reaches and meets their needs.

We have a real opportunity right now to make genuine improvements in the life chances of Scotland’s gypsy/travellers. There is the political leadership at national and local level, emerging community voices, and raised expectations. But it’s still very much all talk, and it needs to be about action and impact. 

4. A gypsy/traveller perspective

Mary Jean Williamson and Virginia Francis told the group: 

  • not having a permanent address, lack of qualifications and discrimination make it difficult to find work
  • barriers to claiming benefits harder include not having proof of address, not having a bank account and moving on before a claim is completed
  • gypsy/travellers can face higher costs of living: moving around leads to  days off work, extra fuel costs which increases poverty 
  • reliance on internet access is problematic. Sites don’t necessarily have internet access, many Gypsy/Travellers don’t have smart phones and can’t afford credit for mobile data
  • low levels of literacy are also a barrier to accessing employment, and to claiming benefits
  • where Gypsy/Travellers (mainly women) work in mainstream employment, they are often on low pay due to lack of formal qualifications. Many hide their identity at work for fear of discrimination
  • an address sometimes identifies as a Gypsy/Traveller site which can also lead to discrimination, especially in relation to employment
  • barriers to traditional forms of employment are getting worse, and it is becoming impossible to make a living. eg. requirement for a registered address for trading standards, requirement for formal qualifications, cold calling laws   
  • information that is used in relation to Gypsy/Travellers may not be up to date, for example information quoted about number of sites is out of date as some have closed recently 
  • also need to look more at housing need for Gypsy/Travellers – overcrowding on current sites is a big issue. The biggest problem in relation to poverty is adequate provision of permanent accommodation to meet Gypsy/Travellers’ needs
  • gypsy/travellers don’t know where to go for help. Trust in services or individuals providing support is critical and takes time to build

5. Ministerial discussion

  1. Different, flexible ways of delivering employability programmes and benefits advice/uptake are needed.
  2. Each area of policy needs specific consideration of the needs of Gypsy/Travellers, taking account of barriers to information and to accessing policies and services.
  3. Working across portfolios is crucial to break the cycle of poverty.
  4. Importance of leadership at the national and local levels. Need to work across the public sector to support cultural and attitudinal change.  
  5. Supporting voices from within the Gypsy/Traveller community and working alongside the community to develop solutions is crucial – not only young people and women but men as well.
  6. Taking up Kaliani Lyle’s advice, our programmes of work to alleviate poverty through improving incomes in and out of work needs to take specific account of the needs of Gypsy/Travellers. Further work will be undertaken on this and shared with the MWG. 

6. Date of next Ministerial Working Group on Gypsy/Travellers

MWG4 will be on 12 December 2018 and will focus on health.




Telephone: 0131 244 7326


Hilary Third
Secretariat to the Ministerial Working Group on Gypsy/Travellers
Scottish Government Equality Unit
Scottish Government
3H North
Victoria Quay
Edinburgh EH6 6QQ

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