The Forest Bus has undertaken three pieces of research into the health and social needs of the Gypsy & Traveller community

  1. The Health & Social needs of Gypsies in the New Forest, 2006. (A report commission by the New Forest Primary Care Trust)
  2. The infrastructure support for Gypsies & Travellers in Hampshire 2008 (For the government office south east)
  3. The NIMHE Mental health programme – report of the community lead research project focusing on mental health equality and wellbeing of gypsies and travellers in Hampshire 2008 (To inform the department of health race equality agenda)

Much national research has evidenced that the health status of Gypsies and Travellers is considerably poorer than other English speaking minority ethnic groups –

(Van Cleemput et al, 2007; Parry et al, 2004, Doyal et al 2002, Royal College of Gynaecologists, 2001)

The reasons for poor health are attributed to poor accommodation, poor access to health services and education, and discrimination. There is also a lack of engagement and understanding from professionals which can lead to the Gypsy community, who are naturally distrustful of outsiders being reluctant to access services – especially those provided by the state.

The 1999 Health Survey for England into the health of minority ethnic groups. (Evans et al, 2001), did not include settled Gypsies (Travellers). (Health status of Travellers in the South West region, 2002, Bristol University) Assessments undertaken by the Department of Health in 1998, and in 1999 also excluded this group. However, a numbers of studies have suggested that Travellers [Gypsies] are among the most unhealthy of all minority ethnic groups. (Bunce,1996, Hawes,1997, Van Cleeput, 2000, Van Cleeput & Parry, 2001

The background into the history of the Gypsy community in the Forest Bus ‘Report of the New Forest 2006 will illustrate the attempts which were made in the past to change the way of life of this community, and to integrate ‘them’ into mainstream society. It is suggested by historians that many of the Gypsy community living in various parts of England may have originated from the New Forest – we have certainly evidenced that this is the case in other parts of Hampshire. Although the integration of the families during the post‐war period until the early 1960’s was considered a success, we have evidence to show that there are groups of people living in areas of the New Forest, who continue to be marginalized by the wider community. Poverty, isolation and high levels of unemployment, limiting health problems  and physical disability hinder development and the ability for people to make changes to their lives as access to services is so limited.

Through our all our research we have evidenced that the needs identified nationally through other reports and pieces of research are replicated in our own study. In addition we have identified the following:

Premature mortality – people dying before age 60 years

We have made some observations which surprised us. Many people reported that their grandparents lived until 75 +, and yet their parents were not living past the age of 60 – 65 years. In the wider community, life expectancy has risen and yet within this community, it appears life expectancy has fallen. We understand that those who were travelling (and this still applies) were unable to store food so it was purchased on a daily basis – people cooked from raw ingredients so processed food was not generally eaten. In addition, people were physically fitter because they had to be more active in their lifestyle. Although conditions were hard and life was tough, it appears that in some cases it proved to be more healthy.

Higher than average childhood illness resulting in hospital admission

This is due, in part, to the fact that people tend to use the hospital rather than their doctor – especially out of hoursChildhood accidents are common – and often they are not treated unless they are considered serious.

Youth offending appears to be on the increase

At least 50 % of children and young adults have offences registered against them. We have found that children over the age of 11 years begin to be involved in offences such as shoplifting, vandalism, theft and intimidating behaviour. There have been reported incidents of arson, (including the burning of cars) use of professional catapults to shoot animals, and theft of personal belongings in the community.

Hospital Appointments

Voluntary agencies report that they are under resourced to deal with all the demands that are put on them. People request help with transport to hospital appointments which are impossible to keep without help.

Although providing transport is not in the remit of these organisations, workers have found that they need to accompany some people to them in order to avoid misunderstandings about their diagnosis and the required treatment.

In one case, a worker has to deal with the ordering and collection of prescriptions to ensure medication is taken. The workers also report that sometimes the hospital staff do not understand the needs of the patient and that learning disability is not always taken into account. Some of the community report that they feel patronised and judged.

Higher levels of limiting illness

High levels of heart disease, cancer and stroke are reported. In one community, there have been 5 premature deaths in the last 6 months. These are reported to be from cancer and heart disease.

Low take up of preventative health care

Although we found that people take exercise such as walking (in the absence of access to a private transport) there is low take up of preventative health care such as changes in lifestyle and diet. Very high numbers of people smoke, and we have identified that this was in equal numbers between both males and females. Children as young as nine years old report that they are smoking on a regular basis.

Dental care

As with many families in the wider community, dental health care take up is low. This is due to costs, lack of available NHS Dental surgeries and transport. Community workers are frequently asked to help with making appointments, but these are generally found several miles away. This means that people cannot keep the appointments unless they have help with transport and this is often out of hours.


People generally feel isolated. Without exception, both those living on sites and in housing refer nostalgically to the “old days” when there was more sense of community and people were there to help one another. Although there still appears to be a support network of sorts, and the sense of family is strong, people say they feel isolated.

To summarise all research undertaken nationally and locally investigating the health needs of Gypsies and Traveller, identify the following Health issues:

Research shows that there are specific issues particular to all Gypsy families and children.

These can be broken down as follows:

  • Low take up of healthcare.
  • Lack of proper amenities.
  • Poor quality of housing.
  • Discrimination from mainstream society.
  • Isolation with no access to affordable transport.
  • High health needs (average life expectancy is around the mid 60’s with only 1% of the Gypsy population reaching 65).
  • Only 5% of Gypsies live to be 60 yrs old.
  • High childhood accident rate.
  • High levels of premature mortality.
  • High numbers of life threatening or limiting illness.
  • Low take up of Dental care.
  • Higher than average incidence of learning and physical disabilities.
  • High numbers of school truancy.
  • High incidence of youth crime and teenage pregnancy.
  • Low take up of health resources.
  • Arthritis and mobility problems.
  • Children playing in an unsafe environment and lack of supervision of children’s play.
  • Consanguineous relationships (children produced from a relationship between second cousins or closer) causing the compounding of genes.

Traveller infant mortality rate is 3 times greater than the average.

Children from the Traveller community are especially vulnerable to ill health, poor physical development and are subject to disadvantages such as emotional and cognitive development. Over half the Traveller population in the UK is under 15 years of age; over 40% are under 10 years of age.

In any 5 year period, for every settled child that dies of cot death, 10 Traveller children die of the same cause.

(Source, Sedentary Gypsies, Jane Peacock, a report into the  Health & Social Needs of the Gypsy community, 2006) Report on Gypsy and Traveller Conference, Stephanie Ramsay, Southampton Council of Community Service & Southampton Community Health Services Trust, 1996)

Those who do decide to continue with their nomadic lifestyle, face hostility, lack of suitable provision, poor health and interrupted education for their children. This leads to difficulties in employment, setting up self-employed businesses, and endless dealings with the local authority and the police.

“Cos were Gypsies they thinks they can put us where ever they wants. They only build sites on places nobody else would live, look where they’ve put ‘em round here. It’s always the same – sites are next to a dump, the middle of a woods on yer own miles from nowhere, under electric lines and next to the motorway. Who wants to live here, but where else can you go, what can we do?” - Gypsy Man Source: (The Forest Bus report on the Health of Gypsies and Travellers in Hampshire, 2006)

It is clear from evidence from many sources that the settled community has always marginalised Gypsies. Gypsies and Travellers are reared to respect very specific cultural traditions, cultural attitudes beliefs and ways of life. Both their feelings of alienation and strong cultural needs should be considered to ensure the provision of adequate services.

“Any attempt to understand the interaction between Gypsies and Travellers on one hand, and the settled community and the State on the other, must be undertaken against some understanding of the long history of that relationship, its origins and the various phases of official response to the Gypsy phenomenon.” (Hawes & Perez, 1996. p13)