The term ‘Gypsies and Travellers’ encompasses a range of ethnic and cultural groups, many of which practice nomadism (where people do not have a single fixed accommodation but move from place to place) or have a nomadic heritage.

In the 2021 census, 71,440 people in England and Wales gave their ethnic group as Gypsy or Irish Traveller, representing 0.12% of the population, and 103,020 gave their ethnic group as Roma, representing 0.20% of the population.

This page brings together briefings on policy areas including inequalities and discrimination, accommodation, planning laws, the legality of encampments, education and statistics.

Commons Library research about Gypsies and Travellers

Who are Gypsies and Travellers?

A range of groups with different histories, cultures and beliefs are included in the term ‘Gypsies and Travellers’, including Romany Gypsies, Welsh Gypsies, Scottish Gypsy Travellers and Irish Travellers. The Traveller Movement, a charity that advocates for Gypsy and Traveller people, says that:

Gypsy Roma and Traveller people belong to minority ethnic groups that have contributed to British society for centuries. Their distinctive way of life and traditions manifest themselves in nomadism, the centrality of their extended family, unique languages and entrepreneurial economy. It is reported that there are around 300,000 Travellers in the UK and they are one of the most disadvantaged groups.

Many Gypsies and Travellers now live in settled accommodation and do not travel, or do not travel all of the time. Gypsies and Travellers who continue to live in caravans or mobile homes may still desire to travel, even if they are no longer able to, and may “have a strong aversion to conventional housing” (as noted in a report by the charity Friends, Families and Travellers).

There are also Traveller groups which are generally regarded as ‘cultural’ rather than ‘ethnic’ Travellers. These include ‘New’ (Age) Travellers and occupational travellers, such as show people (who work in travelling fairgrounds and circuses) and waterway travellers.

The term ‘Roma’ is generally used, including in UK data collection, for people of Roma origin who have come to the UK from Central and Eastern Europe more recently. Although they often face similar challenges and tend to be grouped together with Gypsies and Travellers in continental Europe, Roma are regarded as a distinct group in the UK, including in the census (as noted in the 2019 House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities (PDF)).

Some Gypsy and Traveller groups are protected against race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010: Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Scottish Travellers and Roma. The Public Sector Equality Duty also requires public bodies to consider equality between groups with and without protected characteristics in exercising their functions and decisions.

A note on terminology

The publications linked to from this page will mostly cover groups that identify as Gypsies and Travellers, but not those who define their ethnicity as Roma, unless stated otherwise. This follows how relevant government policies define the people they apply to. Many advocacy organisations also use the term Gypsies and Travellers.

A 2019 report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee (PDF) highlights that “while some find the term “Gypsy” to be offensive, many […] were proud to associate themselves with this term”. The term “Gypsy” is also used in official statistics and by groups that work on behalf of Gypsies and Travellers, such as the Traveller Movement and the charity Friends, Families and Travellers.