Some time ago, following a number of attacks on Jewish cemeteries, Greater Manchester Police launched a campaign to encourage Jewish people in the city to report anti-Semitic hate crimes. The campaign was a success. The following year, the annual statistics on police recorded hate crime for England were published, showing much higher levels of recorded anti-Semitic hate crime in Manchester than other areas of the country, including London. One newspaper headline read ‘Manchester – Britain’s anti-semitic hate crime capital.’
I think about this story every year when the police recorded hate crime figures are published, and now for the past few years when – for reasons unclear – some disability charities pre-empt publication of the official statistics, by issuing Freedom of Information requests to every police force in the country asking for the same data (is this a good use of charitable and public money?). And every year they present only this data, and suggest that disability hate crime has risen again.
In fact, the Crime Survey for England and Wales finds that the incidence of Disability Hate Crime has declined by 38% since the year ending March 2008 and year ending March 2009 combined surveys. And as the 2020 report explains:
‘This fall in CSEW hate crime over the longer-term is in contrast to the police recorded hate crime series. Police recorded hate crime has more than doubled between year ending March 2013 and year ending March 2020. The contrasting time series reflects the improvements in crime recording made and better identification of what constitutes hate crime by the police over recent years.’
So if you’re looking at the interactive Disability Hate Crime map published by United Response and promoted by Leonard Cheshire, you are not reading data about incidence of hate crime where you live, you are reading data about levels of reporting and the recording of disability hate crime by the police in those areas.
Why is this an important distinction?
Firstly, because people need to know that there is no evidence that the incidence of hate crime is rising – the opposite is true for the country as a whole. Nor is the data on recorded disability hate crime a reliable indicator of incidence in a particular area of the country or overall.
Second, because this focus distracts from the institutional challenge, which is closing the gap between actual incidence and recorded crime. Put simply, we should be more concerned about those areas with low levels of recorded disability hate crime than high levels, because it suggests the police and other agencies are failing. We want to see recorded disability hate crime rise.
Third, because it distracts us from the drop in prosecutions of disability hate crime and the responsibilities of the Crown Prosecution Service.
And finally, because, as we have seen, following the horrific murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, people live their lives in fear and fear limits what we are able to be and do in life. Helping people to be less fearful is a liberation cause. Yes, reducing the fundamental source of that fear – crimes motivated by prejudice and hostility – must remain a priority and every hate crime is wrong. But equally, how we communicate about crime and the way we frame evidence also shapes how people feel the risk they face and how they will as a result lead their lives.
We should not be misrepresenting data and communicating in a way that adds to the problem.