The number of disability hate incidents (not all necessarily crimes) is higher than the number of homophobic hate incidents and religious-based hate incidents.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales – the most authoritative picture of crime in the country – estimated that there were 124,000 disability hate incidents in the past two years alone.
We think this shocking number might actually be lower than the reality. Mencap's 'Living in Fear' report (published in 2000) found that:
- almost 9 in 10 people with a learning disability surveyed had experienced bullying or harassment in the past year - an incredible 88%
- of these, two thirds (66%) of people were victims regularly and one third (32%) were being bullied on a daily or weekly basis
- three quarters (73%) of people had experienced bullying or harassment in a public place
- half (47%) of the people surveyed had suffered verbal abuse, and a quarter (23%) had been physically assaulted.
A new crime
Disability hate crime did not exist in law until 2003, when it was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act. That’s why our Living in Fear report talked about bullying and harassment, when really what we meant was hate crime – there was just no term for it then.
Despite laws against disability hate crime having been in place for a decade now, it wasn't until the tragic deaths of Francecca Hardwick and her mother Fiona Pilkington in 2007 that they were widely enforced. Francecca had had a learning disability and her whole family had been victims of verbal abuse and harassment for seven years from young people living in their area. The torment finally drove Fiona to take her own life and that of her daughter Francecca. An investigation into their deaths uncovered numerous failings by the local authorities, whch should have been there to protect Francecca and her family.
All hate crimes are equal, but some are more equal than others
There are several ‘strands’ of hate crime: disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. Although all are included in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, there are significant differences in the strength of the laws for each strand. The only provision in law for disability hate crime is what we call the ‘sentence uplift’, which means that someone who is convicted of a crime against a disabled person can receive a tougher sentence if they were motivated by hostility or prejudice towards the person’s disability. Hate crime on the grounds of race and religion also have specific ‘aggravated’ offences and ‘stirring up’ offences.
Mencap wants disability hate crime laws to be as strong as possible, and equal to all other types of hate crime. We believe that hatred towards disabled people is just as damaging to individuals, communities and wider society as hatred towards people of a different race or religion, and this should be reflected in the law.
The vast majority of people with a learning disability – and disabled people more generally – who are victims of hate crime do not get justice. Despite the huge numbers of crimes that are happening, only around 3% of incidents are recorded by the police as hate crimes and 1% lead to convictions. In the past couple of years, the number of disability hate crimes recorded by the police has been improving, but this has not led to an increase in convictions, so perpetrators are still evading justice.
We know part of the problem is that not many victims report disability hate crimes, or they may report a crime once but get a very negative response from the police and so never report again. Mencap’s Don’t stand by report found that people with a learning disability felt that police officers often ignored them or did not know how to communicate with them properly.
Even when people with a learning disability report hate crimes against them and the police record them accurately, the criminal justice process is problematic. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)’s own research into why cases where the victim has a learning disability so rarely get to court, found the main reason to be that the CPS questioned the reliability and credibility of the victim. And even when the case gets to court and leads to a conviction, we are concerned that judges are not consistently using the sentence uplift so victims are still being denied full justice.