A “hidden community” of hundreds of gypsies and travellers living in Croydon is at significant risk of social exclusion, with many denying their ethnicity for fear of abuse, a report has found.

The Croydon Council review into the welfare of the borough’s gypsies and travellers sheds light on the estimated 200 households from those communities living in “bricks and mortar” accommodation, many of whom routinely face discrimination when trying to access vital services.

The number of people from traveller communities living in settled accommodation far exceeded those living on either legal or illegal encampments, the report found, although both groups experienced issues of discrimination.

Labour councillor Andrew Rendle, who wrote the report, said the “problems of social exclusion and mental health issues faced by this ‘hidden community’ are considerable and are undoubtedly compounded since many deny their ethnicity in order to avoid discrimination and possible abuse.”

RELATED: Croydon Council forced to censor hundreds of racist comments on plans for new traveller sites

Responsibility within Croydon Council for ensuring the welfare of gypsies and travellers needed to be clearer, the review concluded, while steps should be taken to accommodate the community’s growth in the borough.

The review was prompted by two unlawful travellers sites in the borough’s Ashburton ward and complaints of fly-tipping and antisocial behaviour, according to Cllr Rendle.

While acknowledging the problems associated with illegal encampments, Cllr Rendle described finding “myths and misinformation abound about gypsies and travellers”, perpetuating social disadvantages such as lower educational attainment and shorter life expectancy.

The report refers to a recent study by the National Federation of Gypsy Liason Groups, which found that close to 90 per cent of young people from a gypsy, Roma or traveller background had suffered racial abuse.

While some schools – including Kingsley Primary School in Broad Green, Harris Academy Purley, Meridian High School in New Addington and St Mary’s Roman Catholic High School in Croydon – were welcoming to gypsies and travellers, the report found others acted in an “insensitive way when engaging” with those communities.

Earlier this year, lawyers for Croydon Council were forced to censor hundreds of racist submissions made in response to plans for two new travellers’ sites in the south of the borough.

The report welcomed proposals to develop Croydon’s only existing authorised travellers site, in Broad Green, and makes a number of recommendations, including the establishment of a gypsy and travellers working group, providing large bins at illegal encampments, and encouraging schools to promote gypsy and Roma traveller history month.

The review will be presented at a council scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday.

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