Authorities still need to do more to ensure disability hate crime is properly addressed, according to a report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
While the EHRC report, Out in the Open: a manifesto for change, found that many bodies are making significant strides to address disability hate crime, it is still patchy and some are doing little or nothing at all.
Some of the more effective initiatives that Government agencies, local authorities and transport operators are doing include:
• Monitoring Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act and data sharing which will help to identify 'at risk' individuals
• Addressing cyber bullying
• Tackling anti-social behaviour in social housing.
Disability hate crimes recorded by police forces in England and Wales for 2011/12 increased by 24.1% on the previous year, which suggests hate crimes are increasing or more people are reporting it
The EHRC makes recommendations in 7 strategic areas which need to be addressed if disability harassment is to be reduced:
1. Improved reporting, recording and recognition of disability-related harassment so disabled people know their account is taken seriously at every stage. This also makes it easier to capture the true extent of harassment if we know if the victim was singled out because they are disabled
2. Gaps in legislation and national policy to be addressed, such as tougher use of sentencing for those found guilty of harassment and more involvement of disabled people in public life e.g. jury service
3. Adequate support and advocacy to be provided, especially for those with a learning difficulty who may need someone to speak up on their behalf or provide emotional support
4. Improved practice and shared learning. Government and others need to work together to drive up standards and learn from any mistakes
5. Better redress and access to justice. A disabled person’s account should be equally as credible as a non-disabled person’s in a court of law
6. Improved prevention, deterrence and understanding of motivation. If research is invested in understanding why people commit these crimes, it will be easier to profile potential perpetrators and thus intervene earlier on
7. More transparency, accountability and involvement of disabled people in developing policies and responses to disability-related harassment.
Mike Smith, lead commissioner for the Disability Harassment Inquiry at the EHRC, said: “We welcome the commitment and leadership shown by Government and others in relation to our recommendations, but there is still much that we can and should be doing collectively as a society. The public's response to the London 2012 Paralympic Games will go some way to creating more positive attitudes towards disabled people. But there is still a discrepancy between this and the day-to-day reality for many disabled people who report abuse and often suffer from a 'postcode lottery' in the way their allegations are dealt with.
“The issue of disability-related harassment might be ‘out in the open’ but it is, most certainly, not yet sorted. It is incumbent upon us all, especially in times of austerity, to work to overcome this blight on our society.”
The National Autistic Society’s head of campaigns, Tom Madders, added: “Every day, the National Autistic Society hears harrowing stories from people with autism who have been abused or harassed simply because they are disabled and different from others.
“Our experience bears out the issues highlighted in the report such as the patchy nature of the police’s response to disability hate crime and people’s willingness to come forward when they have been on the receiving end of abuse and harassment or worse.
“Whilst some police forces have taken great strides forward, and are to be commended for that, what we need to see now is a joined up approach so that all people, no matter where they live, know that they will not have to suffer disability hate crime in silence.”