What the disability hate crime statistics really reveal is huge disparities in the performance of police authorities across the UK

This blog post was originally published in September 2012

Figures published today concerning the number of recorded disability hate crimes in the UK in 2011 – that is, crimes recognised and recorded by the police – show a rise of 1/3 since 2010. But despite widespread reports, including by the BBC, what they do not necessarily themselves show is a rise in the incidence of hostility towards disabled people.

This is not to suggest that the incidence of hostility towards disabled people hasn’t risen in the intervening period, or that the rise in recorded crimes might reflect such in increase. But that is not what the figures are actually telling us and we should be careful not to misrepresent them.

Between 2009 and 2010 recorded disability hate crime rose by 1/5. Between 2010 and 2011 by 1/3. It is worth noting that between 2010 and 2011 the EHRC conducted its inquiry into disability related harassment, publishing its findings and recommendations in the report ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ in the summer of 2011. Since disability hate crime statistics first began to be recorded the profile given to the issue by the media, campaigners and others has also risen exponentially. It is highly probable then that increased awareness, confidence and motivation to report and the efforts of the police and others make up for a large part of the increase in recorded crime. In short, the figures are likely to represent progress, albeit still only in addressing the tip of a very large iceberg (and one which may, or may not, be increasing in size or changing in nature).

Comparison across the UK, compiled by the Guardian, bears this analysis out. For example, there were 112 recorded incidents of disability hate crime in Norfolk compared to 9 in South Yorkshire. Yet Norfolk is consistently found to be the safest county in England and South Yorkshire suffers comparatively high crime rates. Is disability hate crime an exception to Norfolk’s normal law abiding character, or to South Yorkshire’s otherwise higher rates of crime, or do the figures reflect relative effectiveness at recording which in turn reflects the relative effectiveness of policing and other anti-crime action in these areas? The figures show many such gulfs in recorded disability hate crime between different parts of the UK which seem highly unlikely to be explained by different levels of incidence and more likely to reflect the different levels and quality of performance of the police and their partner statutory and voluntary agencies.

Our best response to these statistics then should not be to claim disability hate crime is on the rise – for that we need other evidence – but to celebrate the efforts of those police forces and their partners where recording has risen and to admonish those in areas whose statistics can speak only of continued complacency and failure to act in order to protect and promote the rights of disabled people to live life in safety and security.

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