How many Roma live in the UK?

31 October 2013

The Council of Europe defines the Roma as a group from Central and Eastern Europe, made up of "people who describe themselves as Roma, Gypsies, Travellers, Manouches, Ashkali, Sinti and other titles".

A 2009 report previously estimated that there were at least 49,000 Roma living in England. But this week Channel 4 News quoted a much larger number. It referenced a new study from the University of Salford that suggests there are close to 200,000 Roma who call the UK home. And - according to the authors of this research - this is a "conservative" figure.

Official data is severely lacking - and any attempt to estimate the number of Roma in the UK is reliant on sampling or modelling. While the government records the nationality of migrants, it doesn't collect information on their ethnic origin. So all we have to go on is ad-hoc estimates produced by the government and others.

The government's most recent estimate is from 2012 but, while its 80,000-300,000 count (in itself vague) is much higher than the 2009 estimate of 49,000, the latest figure includes Gypsies and Travellers indigenous to the UK as well as Roma migrants. 

The University of Salford's estimate (197,705) applies only to Roma who have travelled to the UK. The researchers behind the study surveyed the UK's local authorities to produce their estimate. A third of LAs responded with data, citing school censuses and voluntary sector organisations among their sources of information. The researchers then used their data to model the situation in other areas of the country where there were no figures available.

Increasing population

Of the LAs responding to the survey, 64% said that the population of Roma in their area had increased, rather than decreased or stayed the same (having been asked to answer this question "to the best of their knowledge"). While this isn't direct evidence for an influx of Roma, we know that since 2004 the UK has seen large scale migration from Eastern Europe, where many Roma people hail from.

The University of Salford has attempted to generate data where it is obviously lacking. While its researchers acknowledge the limitations of their estimate, it's a useful point of reference.

In January, when migration restrictions are relaxed, people from Romania and Bulgaria will be able to live and work freely in the UK. With concerns over how public services might cope with a new wave of migrants, there is an obvious need for more information on the Roma.

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