Election in Wales: Politicians forget we’re voters, says Gypsy woman

By Kate MorganCommunities correspondent, BBC Wales News • Sian DafyddBBC News

grey placeholderLeeanne Morgan A woman with a fringe looks directly into camera with a serious expressionLeeanne Morgan

Leeanne Morgan says Gypsy and Traveller people want to not be “a second thought”

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities should be treated as voters and “not political footballs” during elections, campaigners have said.

The Traveller Movement added these communities faced “chronic democratic underrepresentation”.

Leeanne Morgan, 48, part of the Gypsy community, said people like her just want to be treated “like everybody else”.

The Electoral Commission is supporting a campaign to push more people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to vote, saying they were “less likely” to be registered.

The mother-of-two said there were many barriers which her community faced, with many left feeling like “second-class citizens”.

“There’s only so long that you can stand up, you can ask and fight for things that you want,” she added.

Leeanne, who lives with her family on a site in south Pembrokeshire, said politicians did not visit sites while on the campaign trail.

“I think they forget that they are their constituents as well. I mean, historically, Gypsy and Traveller sites are out of the way and sort of push to the side.

“Unless you’ve lived within the community for a long, long time, you wouldn’t know that they’re there,” she said.

There are about 3,630 Gypsy and Irish Traveller people living in Wales, with the highest proportions in Cardiff and Pembrokeshire.

According to the latest census in 2021, 73% live in a house or flat and 27% live in a caravan or mobile home.

Political rhetoric and language was also creating barriers, according to Leeanne.

She has worked with officials to advocate for her community, and said too much jargon was used by political leaders and campaigners.

“I think they need to take into consideration how they’re speaking to the people, to the people that are going to be voting them into power, so that they know, and everything is explained properly,” she said.

‘Political footballs’

Grace Preston is one of those behind Operation Traveller Vote – a push to empower members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to vote in the upcoming election.

“Members of the community don’t feel like constituents, but rather political footballs dragged out for politicians’ campaigns,” the senior policy officer added.

The organisation behind the campaign, The Traveller Movement, said members of these communities’ faced “chronic democratic underrepresentation and huge levels of discrimination”.

grey placeholderGrace Preston A young woman with jaw length dark brown hair looks down into the camera. She is wearing a beige top with a red stripe.Grace Preston

The Traveller Movement has been holding registration drives across the UK

“If you don’t feel like an active constituent in a community, you disengage and don’t get involved, our job is to show how you can use your vote and voice,” she added.

Alongside the campaign, the Traveller Movement has produced its own manifesto with recommendations on how all political parties can prioritise the communities’ needs in areas such as health and education.

The group has been visiting UK cities and knocking on doors at Traveller sites to help overcome any literacy or digital literacy issues.

“We have our own manifesto and questions that people should ask politicians… giving people that power to have a voice for themselves is super important,” she said.

The campaign has been supported by The Electoral Commission, the independent body which oversees elections.

“Everyone should be able to participate in elections, but our research shows that some groups are less likely to be registered to vote and to own an accepted form of ID, including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities,” a spokesperson added.

What do the parties say?

Plaid Cymru said: “Romani, [Gypsy], Roma and Irish Traveller communities are too often used as a political football.”

“We are committed to combating Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-migrant sentiment, anti-Gypsy and Roma Traveller sentiment, and all forms of racism and bigotry in politics and in wider society,” a spokesperson added.

The party said politicians of all parties had a duty to engage with all communities in their areas, and encourage everyone to participate in elections.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have been asked to comment.

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