Travellers suffer ‘extreme disadvantage’, report shows

ESRI highlights the ‘urgency’ of the community’s situation in a landmark study

Almost 70 per cent of Travellers live in caravans or overcrowded housing, just 1 per cent have a college degree, 82 per cent are unemployed and their health worsens more dramatically than non-Travellers as they age.

These are among the findings in a landmark study of the Traveller community, published this morning by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report says given the “sheer magnitude of the gap between Travellers and non-Travellers in terms of education, employment, housing and health,” the community need both mainstream services and highly targeted policies.

Recognition of Traveller ethnicity “could be of considerable benefit in ensuring respect for the cultural identity of Travellers in the context of targeted services”.


Drawing on the 2011 Census, A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland examines the "extreme disadvantage" suffered by the community.

It is more detailed than other studies as it has the full Traveller population as enumerated in the 2011 Census.

Travellers are a small group, accounting for less than 1 per cent of the population, but stand out as suffering shorter terms of life expectancy and opportunity, say the authors Dorothy Watson, Oona Kenny and Frances McGinnity.

“Travellers are more likely to have left school at an earlier age, with 28 per cent . . . left before the age of 13 compared to only 1 per cent of non-Travellers.”

College degree

Just 1 per cent of Travellers aged 25 to 64 have a college degree, compared with 30 per cent of non-Travellers.

“The depth of educational disadvantage experienced by Travellers means that specific targeted additional supports will be required for them to participate in mainstream education on equal terms,” the report said.

The unemployment rate for Travellers aged 25 to 64 was 82 per cent in 2011, compared with 17 per cent for non-Travellers.

Among those Travellers who had progressed further in education, the authors found “the employment gap between Travellers and non-Travellers was very dramatically reduced . . . though the gap remains very large.

“This suggests there are additional barriers that operate within the labour market to make getting a job more difficult for Travellers.”

The high barriers suggest “prejudice and discrimination” are significant. The barriers need to be addressed and “reliance on mainstream supports may be premature”.


Some 12 per cent of Travellers lived in caravans or mobile homes and 56 per cent “live in overcrowded accommodation”.

Caravan accommodation is likely to be overcrowded too (84 per cent) and to lack internet access (91 per cent).

Overcrowding was highest among families with children under 15 years of age and adults aged 35 to 44 years.

“Overcrowding is also associated with low levels of education, not being in employment and is higher in the west and midwest than in the midlands, mid-east and south-east.”

The report says local authorities are not meeting their obligations to provide Traveller-specific housing. “The national government needs to do more to ensure” they do, the report says.

The “most striking finding” in health was the “steeper increase in poor health” among older Travellers aged 34 to 64 than there is among the non-Traveller population.

The widening of the health gap between Travellers and non-Travellers as they age “is a clear example of the accumulation of the effects of earlier disadvantage in education, employment, housing and other areas such as prejudice and discrimination.

“This highlights the need for policy to intervene at all stages of the life course.”

Underlined is the “urgency of the situation of Travellers”.

Ethnic recognition would “be of considerable benefit” and “would also facilitate the routine use of an ethnic identifier on administrative databases which would allow the monitoring of progress towards equality for Travellers”.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times