Leaders: Shameful way to treat anyone
Scum. Gypos. Mongs. Thieves. Beggars. Paedos. As we reveal today this is how Glasgow’s Roma population are viewed by officials in Scotland’s largest city.
With prejudice of this sort rife it is scarcely surprising that Govanhill Law Centre concludes the Roma are frequently – and worse, routinely – subject to unequal and unlawful treatment.
Private prejudice is ugly enough but the public brand is uglier still. It stains everyone and everything it touches. Many Roma arrived in Britain seeking refuge from the discrimination and racist abuse that is a feature of life in central and eastern Europe. It is galling to discover they are likely to be persecuted by officials in this country too.
The report, commissioned by Oxfam, reveals a depth of discrimination and prejudice that is as shameful as it is shocking. According to the report, HMRC appears to have a default presumption that tax returns submitted by Roma must be fraudulent. It is difficult to imagine how suspicion on this scale can be accidental. Similarly, more than half of all Roma-related benefits decisions were subject to unreasonable delays with, in many instances, dreadful consequences for families awaiting relief. As many as one in five Roma claimants, the report reveals, faced homelessness while delays in payments have left a third all but destitute. No wonder 70 per cent of those Roma surveyed felt they were not treated fairly by public officials.
“Institutional racism” – the charge levelled at the Metropolitan Police by the McPherson Report into their bungled handling of the Stephen Lawrence murder inquiry – is a serious charge. But the evidence we publish today endorses the suspicion public officials in Glasgow have failed the 1,800-strong Roma community and, by extension, their city and Scotland too.
Certainly it is hard to imagine any other group suffering unequal treatment in quite so blatant a fashion. Equally, if another ethnic community suffered this kind of discrimination we would expect politicians to demand action and reform. That there is no Roma “lobby” and few votes in ensuring they are treated fairly should not prevent politicians from demanding answers in this case. In this respect, our report challenges Glasgow’s elected representatives just as much as it challenges the Department of Work and Pensions.
It should not be necessary to point out that the Roma are, subject to the usual rules and regulations on residency, legitimately entitled to the same levels of protection and decency in Scotland as any other residents. It should also go without saying that they deserve to be treated in an equitable, timely and humane manner. This does not appear to have been the case.
The problems endured by the Roma may be extreme examples of official prejudice but they serve as a reminder that bureaucracy often fails to treat individuals with the dignity they deserve. While there has been a welcome, if also overdue, sea-change in attitudes to race in Britain in recent years, it is evident more needs to be done to eradicate ignorant and ugly prejudice. It is unacceptable to treat other minorities in the way the Roma have been treated. It is similarly unacceptable to treat the Roma in this fashion.
Welfare claimants are an easy target for populist bullying, especially in a time when every pound spent by the public purse must be justified. Nevertheless, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that many officials classify the Roma as the “undeserving poor”. Life on the margins is hard enough without being subjected to state-sponsored harassment of this sort.
SNP’s own goal
THE Scottish Government’s Offensive Behaviour at Football legislation is oppressive, arbitrary and utterly unnecessary. As we report today, it also contains one rather large and embarrassing loophole. The new law – perhaps the SNP’s most high-profile piece of parliamentary business since it came to power in 2007 – will not cover anti-English sentiment during the European Championships, which kick off next month. Public order offences during English matches will instead be dealt with by long-standing guidelines covering breach of the peace. This is as it should be, but shows there was no need to introduce new laws to deal with problems that could have been policed using existing legislation.
Sadly, enforcing existing laws does nothing to flatter a politician’s ego. Better instead to create new offences so as to foster the impression something is being done. That the SNP succeeded in passing a bill that covers some matches but not others and that offers “protection” from abuse to some categories of supporters but not others confirms the suspicion that this shambolic legislation was misconceived from the start. If it were not for vanity, the bill might have been dropped before it embarrassed the government still further. The desire to avoid a humiliating U-turn, however, proved more powerful than common sense. The result? A spectacular own goal.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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