Hate crime affects a worryingly high percentage of people with learning disabilities, but a new helpline is an important step in helping the people affected.

Sadly, hate crime is a part of everyday life for many people with learning disabilities, it seems. While much of it may not appear that serious – name calling or anti-social behaviour for example – it can nevertheless have a significant adverse impact on people’s quality of life, especially if it goes on for a sustained period.

While figures released in September 2012 by the Association for Chief Police Officers showed that in 2011, 2,095 disability hate crimes were reported – up from 1,569 in 2010 – there is still a feeling that the number is only the tip of a very large iceberg.

Indeed, Mencap estimates that 9 in 10 people with a learning disability are verbally harassed or exposed to violence as a result of their disability. Given that there are estimated to be 1.5 million people in the UK with a learning disability, that’s a lot of people suffering from hate crime.

Additionally, a survey by Scope in July 2012 found that nearly half of all people with disabilities believe attitudes towards them had worsened in the past year; and that 64% had experienced aggression, hostility or name calling.

So, the launch of the Stop Learning Disability Hate Crime helpline is perhaps overdue. It’s a great concept: the helpline, run by hate crime support organisation Stop Hate UK, is staffed by specially trained operators, calls are confidential, and callers will be asked whether they need on-going support. Referrals will be made where consent has been given by the victim.

Perhaps more importantly, Stop Hate UK will also follow up with callers and offer additional support, referrals or signposting where appropriate. Often, this type of service is lacking when people go to the police about disability hate crime, but there’s no question that some will need support to deal with and overcome their experiences.

Crucially, all incidents will be reported to the local police by Stop Hate UK, either with the victim’s details for investigation purposes, if that is what they want, or without the details of the victim, for information and monitoring purposes.

This is especially important because people with learning disabilities often either don’t want to go to the police, or don’t believe what has happened  is important enough for them to do so. While I expect the new service may cause a significant spike in next year’s hate crime figures, it will mean they are closer to reflecting the true picture. It could also mean that more perpetrators are brought to justice.

While much more needs to be done to tackle disability hate crime – from Government policy, more positive representations of people with disabilities in the media , improved police attitudes and public education – the helpline is a welcome addition.