Disability Hate Crime is an abhorrent and intolerable crime which is a growing problem in the UK.
The most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales estimated that 70,000 disability motivated hate crimes were committed in 2014-2015. Disability hate crimes are classified as any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s disability. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said it is “a crime hidden in plain sight”. And we also know there is currently a stark gap between the reporting of these crimes and successful prosecution outcomes.
As the parent of a disabled child, I know how thoughtless actions can affect the wider family as well as the individual being targeted. Sadly, when we see the more extreme manifestations of ill feelings towards disabled people, it can lead to crimes being committed against them.
Events like Hate Crime Awareness Week, which ran from 12-17 October, are vital in ensuring that we keep moving forwards on this issue. To coincide with this week, a number of Government ministers across Whitehall departments recently attended a roundtable event along with senior leaders from the criminal justice system, with the important aim of refreshing the cross-Government Hate Crime Action Plan.
From the policing and enforcement sector, the CPS have developed a mandatory training programme for all prosecutors on disability hate crime which is now being rolled out. The College of Policing has also published hate crime operational guidance for officers, and I was pleased to visit the College in person recently and see for myself the increasing focus being placed on this issue. All of this work is already improving performance, though there still remains a long way to go. In cases where there is evidence that offenders have displayed hostility towards a victim based on perceived disability, prosecutors can ask the Courts to impose harsher sentences for such crimes and increasingly this is happening.
With increased training amongst the police, prosecutors, and the judiciary we are continuing to raise the profile of this type of offence. However it is important that while we keep striving for improved results in this field, we must not lose sight of the experiences of those directly affected by disability hate crime. Only by understanding their perspectives and listening to their needs can there be meaningful and lasting change.
An extended version of this article appeared in Enable Magazine on Monday 26 October.