Lazy misreporting of startling rises in disability hate crime disguise institutional failure

Disability hate crimes in Scotland have not risen by 270% in five years as so misleadingly reported in the Scotsman.  Overall incidence of disability hate crime has – according to an authoritative report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – remained stable year on year since 2007 (at an estimated 72000 per year for England, Scotland and Wales combined). Based on the size of Scotland’s population we might therefore reasonably estimate around 6000 incidents per year in Scotland.

What the data reported by the Scotsman shows is a rise in the number of such crimes reported to and recorded by the police, not in overall incidence.  Based on the estimated 6000 incidents a year this amounts to an increase in the proportion of such crime reported to and recorded by the police from around 0.8% of all such crimes in Scotland in the year ending March 2011 (48) to just under 3% of all such crimes last year (117).  This suggests progress, of a sort.  But looked at another way it continues to mean that around 97% of such incidents are not reported to or recorded by the police or other agencies.

That should be the story – not that disability hate crime is going up (there is no evidence that it is), but that it is not going down and that criminal justice agencies are failing to ensure the rights of disabled people to live their lives in safety and security.

Yet too often the data is being leapt on and completely misrepresented to serve other narratives regarding the impact of welfare reform and the rhetoric surrounding it, without any hard evidence, as in this recent piece by Frances Ryan in the Guardian.

The facts are that:

  • There is no evidence of a rise in the incidence of disability hate crime since 2010 – it has remained broadly stable at 72000 incidents per year since 2007
  • While there may be sound anecdotal evidence which must be taken seriously, there is no hard evidence that a primary driver of disability hate crime is so called ‘scrounger rhetoric’ (important to note that we know very little about the motivations of perpetrators and that the last government promised and then failed to carry out research into the issue).  I will write separately about this.
  • The numbers of crimes reported to and recorded by the police and other agencies has risen, as have the number of prosecutions, since they first began to be recorded in 2007.  This seems quite natural, as not only were they not being recorded before that date, awareness has risen substantially and there have been national policies and programmes to address it.  As I say above, the real story is how little difference these appear to have made.

Such misreporting is dangerous and damaging.  Not only does it promote unnecessary fear of personal crime, it smoothes the way for broken criminal justice institutions to pass off their failure as being a product of a ‘broken society.’

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