Authorities need to take further steps to ensure that harassment of disabled people is taken more seriously and doesn’t escalate into the situation Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca found themselves in five years ago, the Commission said today.
In 2011, the Commission carried out a ground-breaking inquiry into disability related harassment, which found that there was a systemic failure by public authorities and transport operators to prevent disability related harassment. A follow-up report issued today details the responses since then from government, authorities and transport operators. It shows that many are taking significant steps, making progress, individually and collectively, towards making a real difference. These steps include:
A commitment to monitoring Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act and data sharing which will help to identify ‘at risk’ individuals;
Addressing cyber bullying; and
Tackling anti social behaviour in social housing.
But the Commission’s evidence shows that actions taken to prevent and tackle harassment are patchy with some authorities doing nothing or very little at all. The Disability Hate Crime Network still shows daily postings of reports on attacks against disabled people. Disability hate crimes recorded by police forces in England and Wales for 2011/12 increased by 24.1% on the previous year which suggests there are more hate crimes towards disabled people or more people feel comfortable reporting it. Yet other figures show that less than 3.0% of disability related hate crime is reported or recognised as such.
In its report ‘Out in the Open: a manifesto for change’ issued today, the Commission makes recommendations in 7 strategic areas which need to be addressed if disability harassment is to be reduced:
Improved reporting, recording and recognition of disability related harassment so disabled people know their account of being tormented or worse, is taken seriously at every stage. This also makes it easier to capture the true extent of harassment if we know if the victim was singled out because they are disabled.
Gaps in legislation and national policy to be addressed, such as tougher use of sentencing for those found guilty of harassment and more involvement of disabled people in public life e.g. jury service.
Adequate support and advocacy to be provided, especially for those with a learning difficulty who may need someone to speak up on their behalf or provide emotional support.
Improved practice and shared learning. Government and others need to work together to drive up standards and learn from any mistakes.
Better redress and access to justice. A disabled person’s account should be equally as credible as a non-disabled person’s in a court of law.
Improved prevention, deterrence and understanding of motivation. If research is invested in understanding why people commit these crimes, it will be easier to profile potential perpetrators and thus intervene earlier on.
More transparency, accountability and involvement of disabled people in developing policies and responses to disability related harassment.
Mike Smith, lead Commissioner for the Disability Harassment Inquiry, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:
‘The issue of disability-related harassment might be “out in the open” but it is, most certainly, not yet sorted. It is incumbent upon us all, especially in times of austerity, to work to overcome this blight on our society.’