This month saw the launch of the Equality & Social Justice Unit (ESJU), aimed at improving Gypsy, Traveller and Roma access to justice and challenging unlawful discrimination and human rights abuses.
Sasha Barton, civil liberties partner at Hodge Jones & Allen has been appointed a member of the Unit’s Expert Advisory Group, reflecting her experience working with Gypsies and Travellers both as a senior policy officer at the (then) Commission for Racial Equality, specialising in Gypsy and Traveller policy, and in her current role as a lawyer, bringing complaints and civil claims against the police and other public bodies.
The ESJU was launched at an event at the House of Commons on 8 June by The Traveller Movement with attendees including MPs, lawyers and campaigners. It will provide support and advocacy for Gypsies and Travellers, as well as empowering individuals by providing training on legal rights. It will also support a small number of individuals to bring legal cases in particularly important areas.
The Unit will provide a vital service to ethnic groups that face shockingly poor life outcomes and continuing discrimination. People in these communities are more likely to experience poor health outcomes, have limited access to education, lower educational attainment and disproportionately high levels of exclusion and live in inadequate accommodation. The majority have experienced discrimination at some point in their lives, whether at school, from local authorities, the police, when using local services or from neighbours.
Sasha Barton said: “The provision of targeted support for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma is hugely important if we are to see meaningful changes in public attitudes and life outcomes. Often individuals don’t have the confidence to challenge discrimination, even in its most blatant of forms, believe that nothing will be done even if they do and do not know where to turn for advice.
“Many people still have no idea that Gypsies and Travellers are ethnic groups, who have legal protection from discrimination; they see Gypsies and Travellers as people making a lifestyle choice, stereotype them and make derogatory comments.
“I am excited that this unit will make individuals more aware of their rights and how to assert them, and will give them an access point for seeking advice, meaning that more challenges can be brought. Further, if the unit can support some high profile challenges in key areas this could really lead to a sea change in attitudes towards these groups.”
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