A GOVERNMENT investigation has been launched after a report accused public officials of “institutional racism” in their dealings with Roma people living in Scotland.
Officials from the Department for Work and Pensions are investigating allegations that Roma were threatened and lied to by job centre staff, and that legitimate benefits payments were delayed, leading to high levels of child poverty.
The allegations were made in a report commissioned by Oxfam from Govanhill Law Centre (GLC) in Glasgow. As a result of delays in welfare payments – up to three years in some cases – more than a third of low-paid Roma claimants faced destitution, including families with babies.
The report was written by lawyers at GLC who investigated how 66 Roma families were dealt with by the DWP, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs and Glasgow City Council.
GLC concluded that in some cases the treatment of Roma was unlawful and breached the Equality Act 2010.
The DWP inquiry is focussing on the Laurieston Jobcentre Plus, which is situated in an area of Glasgow that is home to some 3,000 Roma.
A DWP spokesperson confirmed that investigators had been in contact with GLC.
She said: “Jobcentre Plus takes this kind of allegation extremely seriously. We expect high standards of behaviour from all staff.”
The move was welcomed by campaigners, who called for an inquiry into the report’s findings.
Lindsay Paterson, a GLC solicitor and one of the report’s authors, said: “We intend to cooperate fully in any way we can with the investigation.
“We hope that HMRC will follow the DWP’s lead and also launch an investigation into the serious breaches of the Equality Act identified in our report.”
Annie Lewis, from Oxfam Scotland, said: “We were very concerned by evidence that Roma people are being treated differently from other EU citizens when it comes to accessing benefits and tax credits. We’re pleased that an investigation has been started.”
HMRC said it was also looking into GLC’s claims and that it would co-operate with any official inquiry.