Marginalised groups are overly exposed to the negative socio-economic impacts of COVID – ERGO, all roads should lead to ROMA inclusion

Ergo - ROMA community Blog
Nicholas Clark

Author: Nicholas Clark

The phrase “all roads lead to Rome” tells us that there are many paths to the same outcome; yet the path that we are on (here referring to the traditional linear economy) have led us astray. Sustainability is a complex beast, requiring a pluralistic approach encompassing a holistic strategy which includes all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), not just economic growth for the sake of development. Going carbon neutral is meaningless if people are suffering, so reducing poverty and reducing inequality should be at the heart of any economic model we wish to encompass a sustainable society. This is precisely why the diverse business models comprising the social economy are essential for sustainable societal change.

Let down by traditional economy

Well sadly, many groups of people are left behind under our current model, one such group is the ROMA community, a diverse group of people including Roma, Sinti, Kale, Travellers, Romanichels, Boyash/Rudari, Ashkali, Egyptians, Yenish, Dom, Lom, Rom and Abdal.  Many will know them only by the  term “Gypsy”. Around 10 to 12 million Roma people live in Europe, of which approximately six million are citizens or residents of the EU. This is where the story takes a bad turn – Nearly 80% of this community are at risk of poverty; 41% report experiencing antigypsyism (a form of racism); only 43% have paid employment and a disproportionate number suffer poor health, education, and housing. The issues run deeper. While being horribly misunderstood and mischaracterized in mainstream society the Roma community experience acute vulnerability to the COVID crisis, with many facing no access to basic sanitation facilities; unsuitable, overcrowded, damp, dark accommodations, lack of access to medical care, Ineligibility for replacement income schemes as many are self-employed or work in informal sectors (crafts, artists, agriculture). Moreover, they suffer the digital divide with difficulty in accessing online education because of lack of infrastructure, equipment, and skills. The worsening antigypsyism: scapegoating by general public and the media and police brutality highlight the importance of a change in the way society treats, views and provides opportunities for this highly marginalized group.

Help at hand

Interestingly, things may be about to improve! The ERGO Network, a European umbrella organization of 29 national members representing grassroots Roma communities across Europe was founded in 2008. Their mammoth task is to combat poverty, inequality and antigypsyism and to strengthen Roma civil society and participation in decision making at local, national and European level. They achieve this by advocating for better policies, organising public debates and campaigns, building the capacity of Roma activists, and providing spaces for networking and mutual learning.

The ERGO Network recently held an important event with high level speakers in cooperation with the European Parliament Social Economy Intergroup and Social Economy Europe, entitled “Social economy and Roma inclusion in times of Covid19, A contribution to Europe’s Action Plan on Social Economy”.  Find the presentation from SEE Director, Victor Meseguer here. Important messages to policy makers were clarified along with impressive grass routes examples of good practice social enterprises from and for the Roma and travelling community. There were important realisations and messages:

European Union Parliament for the first time recognizes the discrimination of the ROMA people

We must ensure that potential to support ROMA is placed at the heart of the recovery package

EU Level help

Peter Pollák, MEP from the Slovak Republic, explained the importance of the social economy as an essential economic model to ensure inclusion of people far from the labour market stating that the aim of social economy is to serve the common good and protect the general interest to increase wellbeing of individuals and communities by organising their activities

The European Commission has recently adopted a new strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation up to 2030, giving an opportunity to learn from past mistakes and enhance access to education, housing, health and the perception of ROMA to mainstream society.

ERGO Network has produced a position paper to highlight the potential of social economy to contribute to Roma social and economic inclusion, as well as to the delivery of the EU Roma Strategic Framework, particularly in the context of the current pandemic. The Key Messages of this paper are:

  1. Legislative framework prioritising social goals over financial gain and promoting sustainability
  2. Meaningful partnerships supporting Roma participation and ownership
  3. The Roma named explicitly as target group for social economy interventions
  4. Fostering Roma social entrepreneurship through awareness and training
  5. Access to stable, dedicated, transparent funding
  6. An economy based on solidarity that works for all, including for Roma

Within the social economy are incredible examples  of social enterprises which put inclusion first thanks to the values structure of the social economy of putting people over profit, democratic governance and re-investment of most of the profits.

gallway traveller movement

Meet the Gallway traveller movement, with the vision of full equality, social justice and human rights realised for members of the Traveller community, and meaningful participation of Travellers in social, economic, political and cultural life. Their mission is to challenge discrimination and racism experienced by the Traveller community in Galway city and county; to challenge the status quo and to empower members of the Traveller community to take action to realise Traveller rights, especially the right to work.

Introduced at the ERGO Network event described above, an important case study was described by Bridget Kelly and Margaret O’Riada, two Traveller women themselves. The two companies are: First Class Insulation and Bounce Back Recycling – Both Traveller-led social enterprise from Ireland. The idea is that Traveller community are the original recyclers and are recognised for their professionalism and are recognised as key partners in environmental waste management. The projects have enabled a thriving Traveller community where Travellers are claiming their economic right and enterprise space while providing Equality and economic self-determination. The projects also:

  1. Increase employment opportunities for Traveller men and women
  2. Demonstrate a powerful model of economic self-determination to inspire the wider community
  3. Increase visibility of their work in order to challenge racism and discrimination
Bounce Back Recycling

First Class Insulation

Provide home insulation and energy advice to low income families in Ireland, inslulating attics and cavity walls

They insulate 150 homes per year – get a higher quality mark (100%) higher than private sector at the time 

This also was an opportunity to combat discrimination and racism

Bounce Back Recycling


Mattress recycling – during recession.

Over 40000 mattresses recycled by the Traveller community

Have waste facility and collection license – branding as a nationwide enterprise

Nicholas Clark Author

Author: Nicholas Clark

Keenly interested in human & social affairs and issues of sustainability. Having recently studied Human Ecology and worked in education for more than a decade, his writings revolve around how we can improve conditions and livelihoods for local communities through policy and action.

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