Katharine Quarmby’s book “No Place To Call Home” shows so clearly that there is a long and horrible history of hatred towards Gypsies and Travellers, from medieval days when they were killed, enslaved and branded in Britain to the slaughter of perhaps half of Europe's Roma in the Holocaust.
In Britain, they are our most excluded group. Gypsies and Travellers are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to education, health and housing, with lower life expectancy exacerbated by living on polluted sites. Women die 12 years before the national average, while children are at higher risk of dying in infancy and adults more likely to kill themselves. Travelling people are frequently victims of abuse and violence that they do not bother reporting. "Gypsies and Travellers are often victims, not perpetrators, of crime," Quarmby writes.
She tells the story of one boy taken by officials from his family's tent in Fife and placed in children's homes, where he was sexually abused. His mother spent the rest of her life hunting for him, dying at the age of 41 without seeing her son again. Scottish authorities have never apologised for such disgraceful actions, which continued into the 1960s.
Gypsy elder Billy Welch thinks the solution lies in travellers opening up and opting in. After all, two-thirds of them now live in settled sites. Only 30 families in Britain travel all year round. Times are changing. "We live in a democracy," says Welch, "and we don't use it. We are our own worst enemy."