Police figures showing that some forces recorded just four disability hate crimes last year are “incredible” and “not believable”, according to the chair of the equality watchdog’s disability committee.
Mike Smith, the only disabled commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was speaking as the EHRC published a follow-up report to its major inquiry into disability-related harassment.
Last year’s inquiry concluded that hundreds of thousands of disabled people a year were subjected to disability-related harassment, but that public bodies were guilty of a “systematic, institutional failure” to recognise the problem.
This week’s report, Out In The Open: A Manifesto For Change, analyses the action taken by the government, local authorities, police forces, transport providers and other bodies since the inquiry published its conclusions.
It concludes that many of them are “taking significant steps, making progress, individually and collectively, towards making a real difference”, but that actions taken to prevent and tackle harassment have been “patchy”, with some authorities “doing nothing or very little at all”.
The report was published almost five years to the day after the death of Fiona Pilkington, who killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca after suffering years of disablist abuse targeted at their family and repeatedly begging the authorities to act.
But this week’s report also comes only a week after a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) report showed a sharp drop in the number of prosecutions for disability hate crime, and in the number of disability hate crimes referred to the CPS by the police.
This fall came even though reports of disability hate crime to the police are rising sharply, with a 23 per cent increase between 2010 and 2011.
Smith said: “There clearly is a problem. The CPS and the police need to look very hard at why it is happening and what they can do about it.”
But he also said he found it “incredible” that two police forces – Devon and Cornwall, and Hampshire – each reported just four disability hate crimes last year, while Leicestershire reported 255, and added: “I do not believe that somehow they have created a magic environment in which disability hate crime is not happening.”
He said it was still too early to use the expression “institutional disablism” to describe any public bodies, but he said: “If we are getting numbers like four [disability hate crimes] in a year’s time, I would find it hard not to.”
He also said he was “disappointed” that the Department for Education had failed to accept the EHRC’s recommendation that there should be research into how segregated schooling affects the ability of disabled children “to re-integrate into wider society”, and its impact on how non-disabled children view disabled people.
The inquiry report suggested that the failure to include disabled people in society – including the history of forcing disabled people to live in institutions, and segregated employment and education – was one of the causes of disability-related harassment.
Based on responses to the draft recommendations it made last year, the EHRC has now produced 43 final recommendations, including calls to improve reporting of hate crime, plug gaps in legislation, improve advocacy and understanding of the motivation behind disability hate crime, and to increase the involvement of disabled people in developing hate crime policy.