Respond Action GroupDisability hate crimes rose by a third in London in 2012, according to research carried out by people with learning disabilities.

Researchers from the charity Respond also found that those with a learning disability are more likely to be targeted, but are much less likely to report it, and that awareness of disability hate crime is low among local authority staff.

In the research, published in a report titled ‘London Calling’, two people with learning disabilities made ‘mystery shopping’ phone calls to 8 London boroughs: Bexley, Brent, Camden, City of London, Croydon, Islington, Kingston and Westminster. Callers rang the main general enquiries number, and described an incident in which they had been verbally abused (called a “retard” and “spaz”), and spat at by a couple at a bus stop.

One of the report’s main findings was that automated and voice-prompt phone systems are a major barrier to callers with learning disabilities. As Respond Action Group (pictured) member June Patterson, who made some of the ‘mystery shopping’ phone calls, put it: “It was confusing, I didn’t know which button to press to get help. It’s no wonder people with a learning disability don’t report hate crime.”

Other key findings included:

Staff showed little awareness in recognising the presence of a learning disability and/or of a disability hate incident

The boroughs studied seem not to have support services in place for someone being harassed. No names or numbers were given to callers for services that may offer support and/or advice such as helplines, or local charities. 

“This is the first research of its kind carried out by people with learning disabilities,” said the report’s co-author, Louise Wallis. “So we are particularly proud. We take the issue of disability hate crime very seriously, because of the many disabled people who have died. We called our report ‘London Calling’ in the hope that it acts as a wake-up call. Councils need to wake up to the fact that their telephone systems are not accessible and that they need to provide disability hate crime training to all their frontline staff.” 

But the ‘mystery shoppers’ did find some examples of good practice. For example, at the launch of the report, Sam Allan, a community safety officer in Camden, who handled one of the ‘Mystery Shopping’ phone calls, received an award, ‘Learning Disability Champion of the Year’, for her response, created by Response in her honour. 

“After some poor responses, it was a relief to get through to Sam,” said Wallis. “She was the only person who suggested to our caller that he was the victim of a disability hate crime. She was also very sympathetic, understood the traumatic impact of the incident on the caller, and spent a long time talking to him. She was so good, that we felt she deserved an award.”