With disability hate crimes hitting record levels in the past year, tackling it must remain a priority for police forces. It is one of those news stories that makes your heart sink: 'Hate crimes against disabled people soar to arecord level' said the headline on The Independent's website on June 19.
Reading on, the report revealed that 1,942 disability hate crimes were recorded by 43 ofthe 44 police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland las tyear, a 14% rise on 2010. Yet despite this rise, the number of convictions has fallen to 523, down 5% from 2010. Sadly, I'm not surprised. While part of the rise in the number of disability hate crimes may be down to increased reporting of them it may well alsobe because of increasing antipathy towards people with learning disabilities.
A survey by Scope in 2011 revealed deteriorating attitudes towards people withlearning disabilities and, anecdotally, things have, if anything, got worse since. The hate crime figure is also probabl yonly the tip of the iceberg. There are about 1 million people in the UK with a learning disability, and going by that Scope survey,more than half have experienced hostility, aggression or violence from a stranger because of their condition or impairment. I'll leave you to do the maths on how many people that is, but the answer doesn't make for pleasant reading.
These findings also give learning disability charity Mencap's call for the incoming elected police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to make disability hate crime a priority an added urgency. Mencap's fear is that PCCs will focus their priorities on other areas of crime at the expense of disability hate crime, which could see the progress that police forces have made in tackling it in recent years reversed. This must not happen.
It would be a tragedy if the progress that police forces have made is allowed to stall because there is some great work being done.For example, in Warwickshire, the local police force has set up a 'Safe Place' scheme, which gives vulnerable people a safe haven to go to if they feel unsafe in their community. There are other schemes like this around the country and show the increasing work that many police forces are doing to engage with and protect people with learning disabilities. And with disability hate crime figures on the rise, these schemes are even more important. PCCs must be made aware of the importance of tackling disability hate crime because, as Mencap's chief executive Mark Goldring said, it can prove fatal if left unchecked.