From Third Force News
GYPSY Travellers are not getting access to social care services and benefits across Scotland, a charity has reported.
Social services and welfare staff have been accused of discrimination towards and prejudice against Gypsy Travellers. As a result Gypsy Traveller carers are left isolated, forced to care for sick and disabled family members without support and struggling with mental health problems.
Minority Ethnic Carers of People Project (MECOPP) this week released Scotland’s first ever report into the experiences of gypsy traveller carers. It revealed shocking incidents of Gypsy Travellers being left without access to social care services or benefits. The Edinburgh-based charity has worked with over 60 carers in the last year and has found that the physical health of Gypsy Traveller carers is generally poor, nearly all have mental health problems and most have financial struggles, face discrimination and feel isolated. Access to social services is at best limited and at worst non-existent, according to the report. Many people who were accessing services said they felt pressured to keep their identities hidden for fear of being treated different by professionals, including GPs.
“I have been really shocked by some of the complexities of the situations that we have come across,” said Michelle Lloyd, MECOPP project manager. “Some of the situations that people are facing on a daily basis are really quite desperate. To me, in 2012 it is quite unacceptable that people are having to struggle to get basic services.
“Many of the carers that we’ve worked with have said that they feel they are being blamed for being a Gypsy Ttaveller or for simply having an elderly parent or disabled child. “The other thing that has saddened and shocked me is some of the attitudes and assumptions made by the service providers we’ve worked with. “Quite often it might be an informal comment made over a cup of tea or in a team meeting, but quite often staff demonstrate blatant breeches of confidentiality, stereotypical ideas, prejudiced assumptions and sometimes that sadly comes from a very senior level.”
The report also finds that high levels of illiteracy in the Gypsy Traveller community impacts on their ability to access social care and benefit support. It found that community care services are often ill suited to Gypsy Traveller culture – for example suggesting male carers help bathe and clothe female service users.
Also, none of the carers that MECOPP has worked with have been able to access Self Directed Support, which is designed to enable services users to design their own care packages. One carer was told by her social worker that “it wouldn’t be appropriate and just more hassle than it’s worth.”
MECOPP and Gypsy Traveller carers this week gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee, which is currently carrying out an investigation into Gypsy Traveller accommodation in Scotland.
Reality bites: Lizzie’s story
Lizzie Johnstone is a mother of two boys and a girl. One of her sons is disabled and has epilepsy. She had been a Traveller her whole life but was forced to move into housing because of her caring responsibilities. “I’ve had about six houses, I always had to leave because people found out I was a Traveller,” said Lizzie. “So, I thought no more, I’m not even mentioning that I’m a Traveller. I even tried to put on a posh voice so that people wouldn’t think I was a Traveller.”
“People, especially professional medical people, can see Travellers as alien. You’re dealing with a bairn with special needs and epilepsy, and you’ve got two other bairns, so you’re so angry with folk. All the things that were available to me, being a human being, I couldn’t get them.
“This particular doctor that I met was really, really nice and she said I was entitled to this extra money. “At the time, no shame in saying it, I would have been more glad of the extra help. I lost out because I didn’t know about it. It was only through the kindness of that doctor – she filled all the forms out for me and sent them away – that a few months after that, I was awarded it.”