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Learning Disability Week review
Monday 18 June 2012
It launched with a parliamentary reception in Westminster, but Learning Disability Week saw events all over the UK, to keep up the fight against disability hate crime
This year's Learning Disability Week took place between 18 and 24 June. It saw campaigners building on the success of Mencap’s ‘Stand by me’ campaign against hate crime, which was launched during last year’s national campaigning week.
According to Scope, almost 60% of disabled people say they have been a victim of hostility or violence. Police forces across the UK have been working hard to improve the way they support victims of hate crime. To date, 34 of the UK’s 43 police forces have signed up to the ‘Stand by me’ police promise and formally committed to supporting people with a learning disability and increasing hate crime convictions.
Despite this progress, reporting of disability hate crime is still believed to represent just a fraction of actual incidents. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, in 2010, the police recorded just 1,569 cases of disability hate crime.
Mencap warns that campaigners must keep up the fight to make sure the progress they have made is not undone. “Hate crime and harassment are unfortunately a daily reality for many people with a learning disability," said Mencap chief executive Mark Goldring. "When hate crime takes hold, it can have serious and even fatal consequences. Mencap is calling on police services to work with us to do more to build trust between the police and people with a learning disability, to offer greater support to hate crime victims and to improve conviction rates.”
On Monday afternoon (18 June), Mencap launched the start of Learning Disability Week with a reception at the Houses of Parliament. MPs, including disabilities minister Maria Miller, deputy speaker Lindsay Hoyle and shadow employment minister Stephen Timms, attended to find out more about disability hate crime and show support for Mencap’s campaign.
Speaking at the event, Nick Herbert, minister for policing and criminal justice, said there is an ongoing debate about whether certain crimes should be singled out for tougher sentencing. “Some people say, ‘shouldn’t all crime be tackled effectively and the test should be the seriousness of the crime?’” he explained. Herbert argued that hate crimes are so appalling because of the impact they have on a wider community of people, particularly vulnerable groups, such as people with a learning disability.
He also said that the government recognises the impact of “low-level criminality” on people with a learning disability: “That’s why the government thought it right to introduce our hate crime action plan.”
Attendees at the reception heard from Kate Green (pictured right, centre, with Mencap's chairman Jim Glover and Tom Clarke MP), who shared her experiences of disability hate crime. While wearing a neck brace, a member of staff at a local supermarket grabbed Kate’s hair and pulled her head back, causing her further injury. More than two years on, the incident has not been resolved.
Also addressing the parliamentary reception was assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police Simon Byrne. He explained why the force, which deals with a quarter of the crimes in England and Wales, signed up to the police promise in February. He described the high-profile disability hate crime case of Fiona Pilkington as a “wake-up call” for the police.
Since signing up to the police promise, Byrne said that the Metropolitan Police has seen just 24 reports of disability hate crime. “I cannot believe, in my experience professionally, that across all of London, there have been just two incidents per week of disability hate crime.”
Byrne drew parallels between the progress that has been made in the underreporting of domestic violence in recent years and today’s situation with disability hate crime. He explained that in many cases, victims are unwilling to progress with a prosecution: “Often, in the trauma of an incident, the will to do something is there initially, but sometimes the bureaucracy of the system works against them.”
Mark Goldring spoke about the progress of the ‘Stand by me’ campaign since last year’s Learning Disability Week. “When we launched our campaign, we thought it was crucial the police looked differently at the way they approach hate crime, the way they recorded it, the way they took evidence, the way they worked with people with a learning disability, the way they trained their own officers.
“The reason we went back to the issue this year, is because we’re making good progress,” he explained. “We’re making great progress on working with the police in a way that will lead to a steady reduction of hate crime and a tackling of the perpetrators. There's much more to do, though.”
In England and Wales, attention was focused on new police and crime commissioners (PCCs), who will be elected in November 2012. They will take on the role of the existing police authorities and will decide the priorities for the police in their area.
During Learning Disability Week, PCC candidates faced questions from disabled people and their families, who demanded that new police and crime plans include a commitment to tackling disability hate crime. A number of high profile figures, including John Prescott and Falklands veteran Simon Weston, have declared themselves as candidates.
“This year will see huge changes in the way that police forces set their priorities and are held to account,” Mark Goldring continued. “Mencap is calling on police and crime commissioners across England and Wales to stand by people with a learning disability and commit to tackling disability hate crime as a priority, so that we don’t reverse the positive progress that has been made in recent years.”
Hustings events, with PCC candidates, organised by disability campaigners, took place throughout Learning Disability Week.
A wide variety of events was held across the UK. In Northern Ireland and London, where there will be no PCCs, campaigners organised awareness-raising events and lobbied their local police services. Campaigners could write to their local newspapers to spread the word about learning disability hate crime on social media.
On the Thursday of Learning Disability Week, a supplement highlighting the difference between learning disability and learning difficulties was published with national newspaper, The Independent. It included a foreword from Mark Goldring and highlighted the 'Stand by me' campaign. Read the supplement.
You and Yours
During Learning Disability Week, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published its report into the policing of anti-social behaviour, 'A step in the right direction'. Mark Goldring appeared on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme to discuss Mencap's work with police forces and the actions that need to be taken to support victims with a learning disability. Listen to the programme.
In Suffolk, a hate crime information event was held at Lowestoft Mencap’s new community resource centre, which has begun functioning as a hate crime recording centre. People with a learning disability can now use the centre to report any incidents of hate crime, if they don’t feel they can approach the police directly.
“The event was really useful for the local community,” said Stuart Thompson, a Mencap regional campaigns officer. “What’s great about the new hate crime recording centre, is that people with a learning disability feel more comfortable in speaking about hate crime. They’re discussing it with their peers and identifying hate crime together.
In Wales, Mencap Cymru held a special hate crime forum in Cardiff with All Wales People First, and the All Wales Forum of Parents and Carers of People With a Learning Disability. The afternoon brought people with a learning disability together with professionals to discuss their experiences and propose solutions. Their thoughts were taken down, and will be sent to the Welsh government, which is currently drafting a hate crime framework for Wales.
Equalities minister Jane Hutt AM attended to talk about the framework. Torfaen People First gave an overview of the work that they have done setting up third party reporting centres in Gwent, and Ceredigion People First performed a hate crime drama they prepared for Learning Disability Week.
In Leeds, an event called Take 2! was held on Monday to celebrate Learning Disability Week. It was organised by Leeds City Council in partnership with Mencap and Tenfold (the Leeds learning disability forum).
Take 2! was attended by around 70 people with a learning disability, the Lord Mayor of Leeds, senior councillors and representatives from police, fire and health services.
During the event, people with a learning disability spoke on eight different issues and then held a mock election (pictured) to find out which subjects people felt were most important – feeling safe and having a job jointly won the vote.
Paul Williams, who works for Mencap, addressed the meeting on the issue of feeling safe and the importance of West Yorkshire’s PCC including disability hate crime in their plans.
“Feeling safe is close to my heart because me and my wife Janet were victims of hate crime,” said Paul. “We need all of you to tell the PCC candidates to include disability hate crime in their plans so that West Yorkshire Police can keep up the good work.”
- In Luton, community groups, including members of Luton Mencap, held an information day on Wednesday at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, to tell healthcare staff about equal access to healthcare for people with a learning disability.
As part of Learning Disability Week, a supplement about learning disability was published in The Independent on Thursday
Listen to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme on anti-social behaviour and disability hate crime