Travellers’ life expectancy still lags far behind

  • Post category:News

The life expectancy for men in the travelling community is just 61 years — the same as it was more than two decades ago, a major report warned yesterday.

This is 15 years less than men in the general population, signalling a widening gap since the last study into the health of the travelling community in 1987, the Department of Health report revealed.

“This is equivalent to the life expectancy of the general population in the 1940s,” according to the all-island study, which also involved researchers from UCD and Northern Ireland.

Life expectancy for female travellers has improved marginally since the late 1980s; they can expect to live until 70. However, this was achieved by the general population in the 1960s.

The stark picture showed that Travellers continue to have higher death rates from all medical conditions, and infant mortality rates are three and a half times the national average.

Up to 400 researchers were recruited from the travelling community to gather the information, and 80pc of the island’s 40,129 Travellers took part.

They found that suicide rates are nearly seven times higher in male Travellers than in the general population.

The head of the School of Public Health in UCD, Prof Cecily Kelleher, said while 40pc of Travellers do not drink alcohol, there is a significant drinking problem in the community.

The findings revealed:

  • More than half (52.5pc) are smokers.
  • The birth rate among Travellers has fallen but is one of the highest in Europe. Their fertility rate is 2.7 per 1,000, compared to 2.1 for the general population.
  • The main cause of death is heart disease/stroke (32pc), followed by cancer (22pc).
  • External causes such as suicide, drink or drug poisoning result in 15pc of deaths and respiratory illness in 12pc.
  • Nearly one in two Travellers felt discriminated against in all areas of life. This is least felt in sport, followed by the health service.
  • Education levels are very low and only half of adult Travellers have completed primary school. More than 90pc of 14-year-olds are now in school or training centres.

Most Travellers in the Republic live in family units of five or less. The report found that 73pc are in houses, with 18pc in trailers or mobile homes.

Most accommodation had both hot and cold water. Some 78pc of Travellers in the Republic had an individual bath or shower, and 91.6pc had a flush toilet.

Launching the report, Health Minister Mary Harney TD described the statistics as very disheartening and depressing. She said she would bring it to the Government with the aim of getting the Department of Education involved, as education was key to improving the lives of Travellers.

Missie Collins, a member of the community involved in primary care, said she was worried about cutbacks impacting on community projects.

“We’ve waited eight long years for this study and I’m delighted that it finally happened and we are getting up-to-date information on our health.

“I’m delighted to see the pride Travellers have shown in our culture and identity. However some of the findings are frightening; it shows a lot more work has to be done if Travellers are to live as long as settled people.”


Source: The Irish Independent, 03/09/10
Journalist: Eilish O’Regan, Health Correspondent