Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller ethnicity summary
Updated 29 March 2022
1. About this page
This is a summary of statistics about people from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnic groups living in England and Wales.
It is part of a series of summaries about different ethnic groups.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) is a term used to describe people from a range of ethnicities who are believed to face similar challenges. These groups are distinct, but are often reported together.
This page includes:
- information about GRT data and its reliability
- some statistics from the 2011 Census
- other statistics on the experiences of people from the GRT groups in topics including education, housing and health
This is an overview based on a selection of data published on Ethnicity facts and figures or analyses of other sources. Some published data (for example, on higher education) is only available for the aggregated White ethnic group, and is not included here.
Through this report, we sometimes make comparisons with national averages. While in other reports we might compare with another ethnic group (usually White British), we have made this decision here because of the relatively small impact the GRT group has on the overall national average.
2. The Gypsy, Roma and Traveller group
The term Gypsy, Roma and Traveller has been used to describe a range of ethnic groups or people with nomadic ways of life who are not from a specific ethnicity.
In the UK, it is common in data collections to differentiate between:
- Gypsies (including English Gypsies, Scottish Gypsies or Travellers, Welsh Gypsies and other Romany people)
- Irish Travellers (who have specific Irish roots)
- Roma, understood to be more recent migrants from Central and Eastern Europe
The term Traveller can also encompass groups that travel. This includes, but is not limited to, New Travellers, Boaters, Bargees and Showpeople. (See the House of Commons Committee report on Tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.)
For the first time, the 2011 Census ethnic group question included a tick box for the ethnic group ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’. This was not intended for people who identify as Roma because they are a distinct group with different needs to Gypsy or Irish Travellers.
The 2021 Census had a ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’ category, and a new ‘Roma’ category.
A 2018 YouGov poll found that 66% of people in the UK wrongly viewed GRT not to be an ethnic group, with many mistaking them as a single group (PDF). It is therefore important that GRT communities are categorised correctly on data forms, using separate tick boxes when possible to reflect this.
The 2011 Census figures used in this report and on Ethnicity facts and figures are based on respondents who chose to identify with the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group. People who chose to write in Roma as their ethnicity were allocated to the White Other group, and data for them is not included here. Other data, such as that from the Department for Education, includes Roma as a category combined with Gypsy, with Irish Traveller shown separately.
The commentary in this report uses the specific classifications in each dataset. Users should exercise caution when comparing different datasets, for example between education data (which uses Gypsy/Roma, and Irish Traveller in 2 separate categories) and the Census (which uses Gypsy and Irish Traveller together, but excludes data for people who identify as Roma).
Finally, it should be noted that there is also a distinction that the government makes, for the purposes of planning policy, between those who travel and the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller ethnicities. The Department for Communities and Local Government (at the time, now the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) planning policy for traveller sites (PDF) defines "gypsies and travellers" as:
"Persons of nomadic habit of life whatever their race or origin, including such persons who on grounds only of their own or their family’s or dependants’ educational or health needs or old age have ceased to travel temporarily, but excluding members of an organised group of travelling showpeople or circus people travelling together as such."
This definition for planning purposes includes any person with a nomadic habit, whether or not they might have identified as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller in a data collection.
4. Improving data availability and quality
The April 2019 House of Commons Women and Equalities Select Committee report on inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities noted that there was a lack of data on these groups.
The next section highlights some of the problems associated with collecting data on these groups, and what is available. Some of the points made about surveys, sample sizes and administrative data are generally applicable to any group with a small population.
Improving data for the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller populations, as well as other under-represented groups in the population is part of the recommendations in the Inclusive Data Taskforce report and the key activities described in the ONS response to them. For example, in response to recommendation 3 of the report, ONS, RDU and others will "build on existing work and develop new collaborative initiatives and action plans to improve inclusion of under-represented population groups in UK data in partnership with others across government and more widely".
Also, the ONS response to recommendation 4 notes the development of a range of strategies to improve the UK data infrastructure and fill data gaps to provide more granular data through new or boosted surveys and data linkage. Recommendation 6 notes that research will be undertaken using innovative methods best suited to the research question and prospective participants, to understand more about the lived experiences of several groups under-represented in UK data and evidence, such as people from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups.
In some data collections, the option for people to identify as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller is not available. Any data grouped to the 5 aggregated ethnic groups does not show the groups separately. Data based on the 2001 Census does not show them separately as there was no category for people identifying as Gypsy, Roma or Traveller. As part of our Quality Improvement Plan, the Race Disparity Unit (RDU) has committed to working with government departments to maintain a harmonised approach to collecting data about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people using the GSS harmonised classification. The harmonised classification is currently based on the 2011 Census, and an update is currently being considered by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
In particular, RDU has identified working with DHSC and NHS Digital colleagues as a priority – the NHS classification is based on 2001 Census classifications and does not capture information on any of the GRT groups separately (they were categorised as White Other in the 2001 Census). Some of these issues have been outlined in the quarterly reports on progress to address COVID-19 health inequalities.
Research into how similar or different the aggregate ethnic groups are shows how many datasets are available for the GRT group.
Further information on the importance of harmonisation is also available.
4.2 Census data
A main source of data on the Gypsy and Irish Traveller groups is the 2011 Census. This will be replaced by the 2021 Census when results are published by the ONS. The statistics in this summary use information from Ethnicity facts and figures and the Census section of ONS’s NOMIS website.
4.3 Survey data
It is often difficult to conclude at any one point in time whether a disparity is significant for the GRT population, as the population is so small in comparison to other ethnic groups.
Even a large sample survey like the Annual Population Survey (APS) has a small number of responses from the Gypsy and Irish Traveller ethnic group each year. Analysis of 3 years of combined data for 2016, 2017 and 2018 showed there were 62 people in the sample (out of around 500,000 sampled cases in total over those 3 years) in England and Wales. Another large survey, the Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey, recorded 58 people identifying as Gypsy or Traveller out of 157,000 people surveyed between 2011 and 2019.
Small sample sizes need not be a barrier to presenting data if confidence intervals are provided to help the user. But smaller sample sizes will mean wider confidence intervals, and these will provide limited analytical value. For the 2016 to 2018 APS dataset – and using the standard error approximation method given in the LFS User Guide volume 6 with a fixed design factor of 1.6 (the formula is 1.6 * √p(1 − p)/n where p is the proportion in employment and n is the sample size.) – the employment rate of 35% for working age people in the Gypsy and Traveller group in England and Wales would be between 16% and 54% (based on a 95% confidence interval). This uses the same methodology as the ONS’s Sampling variability estimates for labour market status by ethnicity.
A further reason for smaller sample sizes might be lower response rates. The Women and Select Committee report on the inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities noted that people in these groups may be reluctant to self-identify, even where the option is available to them. This is because Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people might mistrust the intent behind data collection.
The RDU recently published a method and quality report on working out significant differences between estimates for small groups using different analytical techniques.
4.4 Administrative data
While administrative data does not suffer from the same issues of sampling variability, small numbers of respondents can mean that data is either disclosive and needs to be suppressed to protect the identity of individuals, or results can fluctuate over time.
An example of this is the measure of students getting 3 A grades or better at A level. In 2019 to 2020, no Irish Traveller students achieved this (there were 6 students in the cohort). In 2017 to 2018, 2 out of 7 Irish Traveller students achieved 3 A grades, or 28.6% – the highest percentage of all ethnic groups.
Aggregating time periods might help with this, although data collected in administrative datasets can change over time to reflect the information that needs to be collected for the administrative process. The data collected would not necessarily be governed by trying to maintain a consistent time series in the same way that data collected through surveys sometimes are.
4.5 Data linkage
Linking datasets together provides a way of producing more robust data for the GRT groups, or in fact, any ethnic group. This might improve the quality of the ethnicity coding in the dataset being analysed if an ethnicity classification that is known to be more reliable is linked from another dataset.
Data linkage does not always increase the sample size or the number of records available in the dataset to be analysed, but it might do if records that have missing ethnicity are replaced by a known ethnicity classification from a linked dataset.
An example is the linking of the Census data to Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data and death registrations by the ONS. The ethnicity classifications for GRT groups are not included in the HES data, and are not collected in the death registrations process at the moment. So this data linking gives a way to provide some information for Gypsy and Irish Travellers and other smaller groups. The report with data up to 15 May 2020 noted 16 Gypsy or Irish Traveller deaths from COVID-19.
RDU will be working with ONS and others to explore the potential for using data linking to get more information for the GRT groups.
4.6 Bespoke surveys and sample boosts
A country-wide, or even local authority, boost of a sample survey is unlikely to make estimates for the GRT groups substantially more robust. This is because of the relatively small number in the groups to begin with.
Bespoke surveys can be used to get specific information about these groups. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities list of traveller sites available through their Traveller caravan count statistics can help target sampling for surveys, for example. Bespoke surveys might be limited in geographical coverage, and more suitable for understanding GRT views in a local area and then developing local policy responses. An example of a bespoke survey is the Roma and Travellers in 6 countries survey.
Another method that could be useful is snowball sampling. Snowball sampling (or chain-referral sampling) is a sampling technique in which the respondents have traits that are rare to find. In snowball sampling, existing survey respondents provide referrals to recruit further people for the survey, which helps the survey grow larger.
There are advantages to snowball sampling. It can target hidden or difficult to reach populations. It can be a good way to sample hesitant respondents, as a person might be more likely to participate in a survey if they have been referred by a friend or family member. It can also be quick and cost effective. Snowball sampling may also be facilitated with a GRT community lead or cultural mediator. This would help bridge the gap between the GRT communities and the commissioning department to encourage respondent participation.
However, one statistical disadvantage is that the sampling is non-random. This reduces the knowledge of whether the sample is representative, and can invalidate some of the usual statistical tests for statistical significance, for example.
5. Population data
All data in this section comes from the 2011 Census of England and Wales, unless stated otherwise.
In 2011, there were 57,680 people from the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group in England and Wales, making up 0.1% of the total population. In terms of population, it is the smallest of the 18 groups used in the 2011 Census.
Further ONS analysis of write-in responses in the Census estimated the Roma population as 730, and 1,712 people as Gypsy/Romany.
Table A: Gypsy, Roma and Traveller write-in ethnicity responses on the 2011 Census
|Write-in response||2011 Census population|
|Gypsy or Irish Traveller||54,962|
Source: Census - Ethnic group (write-in response) Gypsy, Traveller, Roma, GypsyRomany - national to county (ONS). The figures do not add to the 57,680 classified as White: Gypsy/Traveller because Roma is included as White Other, and some people in the other categories shown will have classified themselves in an ethnic group other than White.
An ONS report in 2014 noted that variations in the definitions used for this ethnic group has made comparisons between estimates difficult. For example, some previous estimates for Gypsy or Irish Travellers have included Roma or have been derived from counts of caravans rather than people's own self-identity. It noted that other sources of data estimate the UK’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller population to be in the region of 150,000 to 300,000, or as high as 500,000 (PDF).
5.1 Where Gypsy and Irish Traveller people live
There were 348 local authorities in England and Wales in 2011. The Gypsy or Irish Traveller population was evenly spread throughout them. The 10 local authorities with the largest Gypsy or Irish Traveller populations constituted 11.9% of the total population.
Figure 1: Percentage of the Gypsy or Irish Traveller population of England and Wales living in each local authority area (top 10 areas labelled)
Basildon was home to the largest Gypsy or Irish Traveller population, with 1.5% of all Gypsy or Irish Traveller people living there, followed by Maidstone (also 1.5%, although it had a smaller population).
Table 1: Percentage of the Gypsy or Irish Traveller population of England and Wales living in each local authority area (top 10)
|Local authority||Percentage of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people living there||Number of Gypsy or irish Traveller residents|
28 local authorities had fewer than 20 Gypsy or Irish Traveller residents each. This is around 1 in 12 of all local authorities.
11.7% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people lived in the most deprived 10% of neighbourhoods, higher than the national average of 9.9% (England, 2019 Indices of Multiple Deprivation).
81.6% of people from the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group were born in England, and 6.1% in the other countries of the UK. 3.0% were born in Ireland and 8.3% were born somewhere else in Europe (other than the UK and Ireland). Less than 1.0% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were born outside of Europe.
5.2 Age profile
The Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group had a younger age profile than the national average in England and Wales in 2011.
People aged under 18 made up over a third (36%) of the Gypsy or Irish Traveller population, higher than the national average of 21%.
18.0% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were aged 50 and above, lower than the national average of 35.0%.
Figure 2: Age profile of Gypsy or Irish Traveller and the England and Wales average
Table 2: Age profile of Gypsy or Irish Traveller and the England and Wales average
|Age group||All ethnic groups||Gypsy/Irish Traveller|
|85 and over||2.2%||0.4%|
|80 to 84||2.4%||0.6%|
|75 to 79||3.2%||1.1%|
|70 to 74||3.9%||1.7%|
|65 to 69||4.8%||2.2%|
|60 to 64||6.0%||3.2%|
|55 to 59||5.7%||3.8%|
|50 to 54||6.4%||5.1%|
|45 to 49||7.3%||6.5%|
|40 to 44||7.3%||7.0%|
|35 to 39||6.7%||6.8%|
|30 to 34||6.6%||7.0%|
|25 to 29||6.8%||7.6%|
|18 to 24||9.4%||11.4%|
|15 to 17||3.7%||5.9%|
|10 to 14||5.8%||9.9%|
|5 to 9||5.6%||9.5%|
|0 to 4||6.2%||10.5%|
5.3 Families and households
20.4% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households were made up of lone parents with dependent children, compared with 7.2% on average for England and Wales.
Across all household types, 44.9% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households had dependent children, compared with an average of 29.1%.
8.4% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households were made up of pensioners (either couples, single pensioners, or other households where everyone was aged 65 and over), compared with 20.9% on average.
6. Education data
All data in this section covers pupil performance in state-funded mainstream schools in England.
At all key stages, Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller pupils’ attainment was below the national average.
Figure 3: Educational attainment among Gypsy, Roma, Irish Traveller and pupils from all ethnic groups
Table 3: Educational attainment among Gypsy, Roma, Irish Traveller and pupils from all ethnic groups
|Ethnic group||Gypsy and Roma||Irish Traveller||All ethnic groups|
Expected standard at early years
Grade 5 and over in English and maths
Grade A or above in 3 subjects
Source: England, Key Stage 2 Statistics, 2018/19; Key Stage 4 Statistics, 2019/20; and A Level and other 16 to 18 results, 2020/21. Ethnicity facts and figures and Department for Education (DfE). Figures for Key Stage 2 are rounded to whole numbers by DfE.
6.1 Primary education
In the 2018 to 2019 school year, 19% of White Gypsy or Roma pupils, and 26% of Irish Traveller pupils met the expected standard in key stage 2 reading, writing and maths. These were the 2 lowest percentages out of all ethnic groups.
6.2 Secondary education
In the 2019 to 2020 school year, 8.1% of White Gypsy or Roma pupils in state-funded schools in England got a grade 5 or above in GCSE English and maths, the lowest percentage of all ethnic groups.
Gypsy or Roma (58%) and Irish Traveller (59%) pupils were the least likely to stay in education after GCSEs (and equivalent qualifications). They were the most likely to go into employment (8% and 9% respectively) – however, it is not possible to draw firm conclusions about these groups due to the small number of pupils in key stage 4.
6.3 Further education
Gypsy or Roma students were least likely to get at least 3 A grades at A level, with 10.8% of students doing so in the 2020 to 2021 school year. 20.0% of Irish Traveller students achieved at least 3 A grades, compared to the national average of 28.9%. The figures for Gypsy or Roma (61) and Irish Traveller (19) students are based on small numbers, so any generalisations are unreliable.
Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the summer exam series was cancelled in 2021, and alternative processes were set up to award grades. In 2020/21 attainment is higher than would be expected in a typical year. This likely reflects the changes to the way A/AS level grades were awarded rather than improvements in student performance.
6.4 School exclusions
In the 2019 to 2020 school year, the suspension rates were 15.28% for Gypsy or Roma pupils, and 10.12% for Irish Traveller pupils – the highest rates out of all ethnic groups.
Also, the highest permanent exclusion rates were among Gypsy or Roma pupils (0.23%, or 23 exclusions for every 10,000 pupils). Irish Traveller pupils were permanently excluded at a rate of 0.14%, or 14 exclusions for every 10,000 pupils.
6.5 School absence
In the autumn term of the 2020 to 2021 school year, 52.6% of Gypsy or Roma pupils, and 56.7% of Irish Traveller pupils were persistently absent from school. Pupils from these ethnic groups had the highest rates of overall absence and persistent absence.
For the 2020 to 2021 school year, not attending in circumstances related to coronavirus (COVID-19) was not counted toward the overall absence rate and persistent absence rates.
7. Economic activity and employment data
Data in this section is from the 2011 Census for England and Wales, and for people aged 16 and over. Economic activity and employment rates might vary from other published figures that are based on people of working age.
47% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people aged 16 and over were economically active, compared to an average of 63% in England and Wales.
Of economically active people, 51% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were employees, and 26% were self-employed. 20% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were unemployed, compared to an average for all ethnic groups of 7%.
7.1 Socio-economic group
Figure 4: Socio-economic group of Gypsy or Irish Traveller and average for all ethnic groups for people aged 16 and over
Table 4: Socio-economic group of Gypsy or Irish Traveller and average for all ethnic groups for people aged 16 and over
|Socio-economic group||Gypsy and Traveller||All ethnic groups|
|Higher managerial, administrative, professional||2.5%||9.9%|
|Lower managerial, administrative, professional||8.2%||20.5%|
|Small employers and own account workers||15.1%||9.3%|
|Lower supervisory and technical||4.5%||7.2%|
|Never worked or long-term unemployed||31.2%||5.9%|
Source: 2011 Census
31.2% of people in the Gypsy or Irish Traveller group were in the socio-economic group of ‘never worked or long-term unemployed’. This was the highest percentage of all ethnic groups.
The Gypsy or Irish Traveller group had the smallest percentage of people in the highest socio-economic groups. 2.5% were in the ‘higher, managerial, administrative, professional’ group.
15.1% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller people were small employers and own account workers. These are people who are generally self-employed and have responsibility for a small number of workers.
For Gypsy or Irish Travellers, who were 16 and over and in employment, the largest group worked in elementary occupations (22%). This can include occupations such as farm workers, process plant workers, cleaners, or service staff (for example, bar or cleaning staff).
The second highest occupation group was skilled trades (19%), which can include farmers, electrical and building trades. The Gypsy or Irish Traveller group had the highest percentage of elementary and skilled trade workers out of all ethnic groups.
7.2 Employment gender gap
The gender gap in employment rates for the Gypsy or Irish Traveller group aged 16 and over was nearly twice as large as for all ethnic groups combined. In the Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group, 46% of men and 29% of women were employed, a gap of 17%. For all ethnic groups combined, 64% of men and 54% of women were employed, a gap of 10%.
This is likely to be due to the fact that Gypsy or Irish Traveller women (63%) were about 1.5 times as likely as Gypsy or Irish Traveller men (43%) to be economically inactive, which means they were out of work and not looking for work.
7.3 Economic inactivity
There are a range of reasons why people can be economically inactive. The most common reason for Gypsy or Irish Travellers being economically inactive was looking after the home or family (27%). This is higher than the average for England and Wales (11%). The second most common reason was being long term sick or disabled (26%) – the highest percentage out of all ethnic groups.
8. Home ownership data
Figure 5: Home ownership and renting among Gypsy or Irish Traveller households and all households
Table 5: Home ownership and renting among Gypsy or Irish Traveller households and all households
|Ethnic group||Own their own home||Rent privately||Rent social housing|
|All ethnic groups||64%||18%||18%|
Source: England, 2011 Census
In 2011, 34% of Gypsy or Irish Traveller households owned their own home, compared with a national average of 64%. 42% lived in social rented accommodation, compared with a national average of 18%.
In 2016 to 2017, 0.1% of new social housing lettings went to people from Gypsy or Irish Traveller backgrounds (429 lettings).
In 2011, a whole house or bungalow was the most common type of accommodation for Gypsy or Irish Traveller households (61%). This was lower than for all usual residents in England and Wales (84%).
Caravans or other mobile or temporary homes accounted for 24% of Gypsy or Irish Travellers accommodation, a far higher percentage than for the whole of England and Wales (0.3%).
The percentage of people living in a flat, maisonette or apartment was 15% for both Gypsy or Irish Travellers and all usual residents in England and Wales.
In 2011, 14.1% of Gypsy and Irish Traveller people in England and Wales rated their health as bad or very bad, compared with 5.6% on average for all ethnic groups.
In 2016 to 2017, Gypsy or Irish Traveller people aged 65 and over had the lowest health-related quality of life of all ethnic groups (average score of 0.509 out of 1). The quality of life scores for the White Gypsy or Irish Traveller ethnic group are based on a small number of responses (around 35 each year) and are less reliable as a result.
Ethnicity facts and figures has information on satisfaction of different health services for different ethnic groups. For the results presented below, the Gypsy or Irish Traveller figures are based on a relatively small number of respondents, and are less reliable than figures for other ethnic groups.
In 2014 to 2015 (the most recent data available), these groups were the most satisfied with their experience of GP-out-of-hours service, with 75.2% reporting a positive experience.
In 2018 to 2019, they were less satisfied with their experience of GP services than most ethnic groups – 73.0% reported a positive experience.
They were also among the groups that had least success when booking an NHS dentist appointment – 89.0% reported successfully booking an appointment in 2018 to 2019.
The Gypsy or Irish Traveller group were also less satisfied with their access to GP services in 2018 to 2019 – 56.9% reported a positive experience of making a GP appointment, compared to an average of 67.4% for all respondents.
Publication release date: 31 January 2022
Updated: 29 March 2022
full page history
29 March 2022: Corrected A-level data in Table 3, and All ethnic groups data in Table 4. Corrected the legend in Figure 1 (map).
31 January 2022: Initial publication.