Roma, regardless of the geographical location in which they live, exist on the periphery of society. They rarely have jobs, and if they do, the work is usually for unskilled labourers and is poorly paid. They live in worse conditions than the social majority, and tend to have a low level of education. This exclusion is also reflected in their health care.
If we wanted to map the situation of Roma thoroughly, we would encounter the problem that very few surveys have been carried out, and that, of those that have been carried out, most are only partial. The fact remains that even the population of Roma remains an open question; their number can only be estimated because given their historical experience, they often do not declare themselves officially. Another factor which adds to the uncertainty is the forced assimilation which has taken place in the post-Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Despite the low number of studies, it is estimated that the life expectancy of Roma is shorter on average by ten years than that of the surrounding population, and that the child death rate is up to four times higher. A study carried out in Spain proved that hepatitis antibodies were nine times higher among Roma than Spanish children, and that Roma children were more likely to suffer from lead poisoning. Genetic malformations are more frequent among Roma.
Unfortunately, there is no survey information on the access of Roma to medical care, and there are no analyses based on such surveys that would deal with whether the medical policies of individual countries take into account the specific needs of Roma. However, it can be stated almost certainly that the countries of Central and East Europe have not set up any special medical policies which take into account the needs of minorities. Central medical policies are historically created according to the needs of the majority.
Nevertheless, the need for special policies is indicated, for example, by a survey carried out in Slovakia in 1996: Roma distinguish themselves from the rest of the population (apart from Roma, the respondents also included Slovaks and Hungarians) through the high consumption of alcohol and beer, and through the minimal consumption of milk, fruit, and vegetables, the irregularity of sleep, a worse general state of health, and a high birth rate.
In the United Kingdom, the chance that children born to Travellers will die during the first year of their lives is 1.5 to 2 times higher than for the children born to the rest of the population.
Anne Sutherland deals with the issue of the health of the Roma population in the USA, which she estimates to consist of 200,000 to 500,000 individuals. She also emphasizes the need for knowledge of the specifics of the Roma population as a condition for the provision of medical care. She refers to a study carried out in Boston, which proved that 73 per cent of the examined population (this amounted to 58 persons) had hypertension, 46 per cent had diabetes (diabetes mellitus), 80 per cent suffered from hypertriglyceridemia, 67 per cent suffered from hypercholestrolemia, 39 per cent suffered from occlusive vascular disease, and 20 per cent suffered from chronic renal insufficiency. Of the sample, 86 per cent smoked cigarettes and 84 per cent were obese. Sutherland also mentions the estimate that the average life expectancy of the Roma in the USA is 48 to 55 years.
Similar findings have been obtained in various places in the world, suggesting that the health of Roma is worse than that of the majority population. The evidence suggests that there is an urgent need for comprehensive studies Roma health.
The main problem with Roma access to education is that the education systems of most countries relate to the fact the education system is organized on the basis of the needs and ideas of the majority. They are not designed to satisfy the special needs of Roma children: the teaching process is rarely applicable to Roma children, and teachers rarely have information on their culture and and traditions. Roma children are evaluated by the standards of the majority, by which they are often labelled as naughty or incapable of being educated.
Jean-Pierre Liégeois states that a 1985 survey of the ten EU states proved that:
30-40 per cent of all Gypsy and Traveller children attend school with a degree of regularity
50 per cent never go to school at all
a very small percentage enter secondary education
results, particularly as regards the attainment of functional literacy, are not in keeping with the amount of time spent in school, i.e. schools are not doing their jobs
even at the most basic level, adult illiteracy is generally above 50 per cent and in some places is as high as 80 or even 100 per cent.
These trends appear to persist into the present.
There is a similar inability of the education system to take into account the dissimilarity of Roma children in non-member countries of the EU, that is in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The established practice used to be (and still persists to some degree) to send Roma children to schools for mentally handicapped children. This influenced their opportunities for continuing their studies at secondary schools and then at universities. For example, it followed from a census carried out in the Czech Republic in 1991 that 80 per cent of Roma had only elementary education, including incomplete elementary education; 10 per cent of Roma were without any education or did not state having had any education, and a mere 1 per cent of Roma achieved secondary or university education.
According to Balabánová, it is estimated that more than 80 per cent of Roma children in the Czech Republic attend schools known as 'special schools' (for mentally handicapped children) to which Roma children are moved from normal primary schools twenty-eight times more frequently than Czech children. Roma children also fail to advance to the next grade in school fourteen times more frequently than Czech children.
The situation in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe is more complicated than in the West because education is not multicultural. Teachers often do not know how to handle racism against Roma children; they do not have any special training in working with Roma children and their families. Another factos inhibiting the education of Roma is poverty - in many Balkan countries, for example, Roma families do not have electricity and preparation of children for schools is thus at risk. In Romania, it is necessary to have a permanent place of residence when a child starts to attend school; a child cannot be enrolled without one. Many Roma are not able to meet this condition and so their children do not attend any school at all.
In Italy, school attendance is conditional on the financial situation of parents - Roma parents often do not have enough money to provide their children with the clothes and school equipment, or to pay for transport to school. This is especially relevant to Roma living in camps. Those Roma children who attend school in spite of this are targets of racist attacks launched by Italian classmates, their parents, or even teachers.
In the United Kingdom, approximately 5,000 Roma and Travellers still lead a nomadic life; it is estimated that approximately one-third of their children attend school regularly. Children living in houses or permanent caravan sites attend school more regularly than children who lead a nomadic life.
School education is not problem-free for Roma children in the USA either. Despite the civil rights movement for ethnic minorities, the majority school education system is not ready to provide Roma children with education according to their needs - trained teachers, textbooks, etc. are in short supply.
The issue of employment is closely related to the issue of education. It is not possible to get a 'good' job without the appropriate education. Roma traditionally earned their living by carrying out traditional trades (boilermaker, blacksmith, basket-maker, brick-maker) which have proved less useful in modern times. Many Roma abandoned them as a result of the pressures of assimilation, but education systems failed them and did not allow them to find new forms of self-fulfilment at work.
At present, besides a general lack of qualification, the employment of Roma is complicated by the widespread stereotype of Roma held by employers: unreliable discipline, inadequate hygiene, stealing, etc. are expected of them. This situation is made worse by insufficient protection against discrimination in the labour market, especially in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. In 2000, the EU approved Directive No. 43/2000/EC, which was to improve protection against discrimination.
As a result, the unemployment of Roma is very high. For example, government sources estimate that the unemployment of Roma in the Czech Republic reaches 70 to 90 per cent; the ERRC estimates that the figure in Hungary is 60 to 80 per cent. The situation is similar in Poland, where Romany unemployment reaches 90 to 100 per cent in certain locations, and the figure for the Ukraine is around 90 per cent. In Macedonia and Bulgaria, the estimated figure is 80 per cent and 80 to 90 per cent respectively. This is long-term unemployment, which, of course, has a social impact on the unemployed individuals as well as on their families. Unemployment, which automatically means lower living standards for a family, is often solved by colleting of wastepaper or metal scrap; this is a common practice in the Czech Republic and Spain.
The unemployment figures given above relate to settled Roma. For Roma who lead a nomadic life and Travellers, the situation is less transparent - women traditionally do 'chores', though they also show a tendency to work for other entities outside the community. Men from these communities declare themselves to be 'self-employed'.
The housing of Roma needs to be differentiated according to the degree of assimilation: part of the Roma population (especially the Roma living in Central and Eastearn Europe) live in houses like those of the non-Roma population, and some Roma live in a more traditional manner, leading a nomadic life, or residing in caravans at camp sites.
Generally, the Roma living in a settled manner have worse housing than the majority population - typically, large numbers live in small apartments, with shortages of water and electricity. Roma families are often segregated into certain districts or streets. Public and private apartment owners are unwilling to conclude lease contracts with the. Roma often live illegally in the apartments of relatives or acquaintances.
In the Czech Republic, municipalities build special buildings containing 'low-category apartments', small rooms without sanitary facilities, off a corridor, and designed for common use. People from municipal apartments who do not pay rent are usually moved into such houses and 90 per cent of such people are Roma. These buildings are usually located outside towns and they form new Roma ghettos. Similar tendencies are apparent in other countries, which move Roma to locations outside towns, without making any special arrangements.
Roma slums also need to be included in the category of settled housing. These slums usually come into being outside towns on municipal or private plots of land, often without official permission, for example in Romania or in Macedonia. The dwellings in these slums have no water or electricity. They are also often demolished should, for example, the town decides to carry out development on a plot of land illegally occupied by Roma. According to the Jean Pierre Liégeois, in Bulgaria a 1980 survey proved that '68% of Gypsy dwellings had no toilets, only 31% had piped water, 67% had access to an outside tap in the courtyard, 15%t to a communal tap for the neighbourhood, and 83% had no drainage'.
The situation is similar in the camps where Roma live. For example, in Italy, a high percentage of Roma live in these camps, both legal and illegal ones. These camps are situated outside of towns as well as in towns. According to the ERRC, Roma live there in makeshift barracks, containers and old trailers. ERRC found out that there was piped water and electricity in approximately one third of the camps. They also state that it is authorities, which often do not allow the Roma living in authorised camps to build houses. According to their findings, these camps are also often inspected by the police, who violate the human rights of the inhabitants of these camps with their approach.