roma community uk

Roma Community Faces Further Discrimination During UK Lockdown

The Roma community faces discrimination during COVID-19 lockdown

Inequalities in British society are being made forcibly visible due to the Coronavirus pandemic, in which black, Asian and minority ethnic, including the Roma community, are disproportionality affected by COVID-19 due to social division and racism.  

Public Health England’s draft report states that “historic racism and poorer experiences of healthcare or at work” leads to BAME individuals being less likely than white counterparts to access healthcare or express anxieties regarding their safety at work. The report references occupation, with BAME workers more likely to work in roles that put them at risk of contracting COVID-19. 

roma community uk
The Roma community faces discrimination in the best of times, but now COVID-19 is threatening their health. [Image: Duncan Brown/Socialist Worker.]

One minority community that is experiencing such an impact includes the Roma, originating from Eastern and central Europe. Roma people have faced discrimination in Europe for hundreds of years, leading to severe oppression. Britain is now home to a 200,000 strong Roma community. 

Roma people have faced discrimination in Europe for hundreds of years, leading to severe oppression

Roma people are particularly vulnerable to Coronavirus in the UK. Health plays a significant part with Roma communities having lower life expectancies than average, largely due to high levels of poverty.

Housing further plays a role: The Fundamental Right Agency (FRA) in 2016 found that 30% of Roma households in Europe have no access to tap water and 46% have no indoor toilet, shower or bathroom. Homelessness, insecure jobs and a lack of access to education all render Roma communities at high risk of contracting and suffering COVID-19.  

The Roma Support Group has addressed anti-Roma racism in the UK in recent months, exacerbated due to COVID-19. Social media has amplified anti-Roma sentiment by circulating images of individuals breaking social distancing rules in Govanhill, Glasgow and attributing it to members of the Roma community, despite the images being pre-lockdown photos.  

Health plays a significant part with Roma communities having lower life expectancies than average, largely due to high levels of poverty

A Channel 5 documentary, ‘Gypsies on Benefits and Proud’, was re-aired on the 1st and 22nd April. Roma Support stated that the documentary “can be seen as a targeted attempt to whip up racist abuse and xenophobia” due to its deliberate portrayal of Roma people as dishonest. Channel 4 broadcast ‘The Truth About Traveller Crime’ during the UK’s lockdown, depicting the Roma community as criminal. Whilst Ofcom received enough complaints about Channel 4 to address the controversy, they still insisted in their response that the programme was a “balanced view.” 

Ideea Rom Association, a Nottingham-based Roma organisation, has seen the community struggle with COVID-19. Ideaa Rom’s Diana Blaj said: “Some days I have dozens of missed calls and we just simply do not have capacity to support more.” 

The Fundamental Right Agency (FRA) in 2016 found that 30% of Roma households in Europe have no access to tap water and 46% have no indoor toilet, shower or bathroom

As the data shows, BAME communities are affected by COVID-19 due to a range of factors, including their occupation. As Roma are more likely to work in care, cleaning, and food production, they are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as losing their jobs due to instability. 

One service user of the Roma Support Group expressed their frustrations: “I have been working in this factory without a day off for the last three years. When this crisis started they sent 200 of us home. Deal with your agencies, they said. No information was provided to us and now I don’t know what to do.” 

Media outlets have a responsibility to consider if they are adding to a stereotype, thereby furthering a community’s oppression. The Government must listen to activists and Roma community leaders, ensuring Roma people are able to live in peace and safety. 

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