MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Fri 18-Oct-13 12:27:50

Disability hate crime - why the law must be strengthened

Under current law, disability hate crime is treated differently to other forms of hate crime. Jo Davies of Mencap says the disparity sends a worrying message, and argues that it's time for a change in the law.

Are crimes against disabled people taken as seriously as they should be? Tell us what you think on the thread below.

Lead photo
Jo Davies

Campaigns Lead, Mencap

Posted on

Fri 18-Oct-13 12:27:50

(11 comments)

Disability hate crime - not taken as seriously?

Disability hate crime has only existed in law for a decade, when it was put on the statute book through the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Before then, when we talked about hate crime against people with a learning disability – like Mencap did in our 2000 research report, ‘Living in fear’, which found that a staggering 9 out of 10 people we surveyed had been victims – we called it ‘bullying’. But this didn’t accurately describe the nature of what so many people with a learning disability faced: verbal abuse, physical assaults, threats, and the hostility and prejudice which underpinned it all.

Having a law which recognised what was really going on - that some people commit crimes against disabled people for the same reasons others commit crimes against black or gay people - was huge progress. Since 2003 if someone is convicted of a crime against a disabled people and there is evidence that they were motivated by hostility or prejudice towards that person’s disability, they can be given a tougher sentence. But Mencap is not satisfied that the law is as strong as it could be, especially compared to other types of hate crime.

While a disabled person only has the ‘sentence uplift’ to get real justice if they are a victim of hate crime, someone who is targeted because of their race or religion has that and two other weapons in their arsenal: the ‘aggravated offence’ and the ‘stirring up offence’. The first of these are standard offences with an aggravating factor – for example, racially aggravated assault – and they carry stronger maximum sentences and, perhaps more importantly, a clear steer on what rehabilitation needs to address. The second of these is a brand new offence which makes it a crime to stir up – or incite – hatred against a particular group.

The discrepancies in the law is more because of the unusual way it evolved than the differing value placed on protecting different groups, but Mencap believes it creates a hierarchy; where hatred against a person because of their race or religion is treated more severely than if this hatred was based on their disability. The Law Commission has been instructed by the Government to examine whether the law should be reformed so all types of hate crime are treated equally, and Mencap has urged the Law Commission to recommend just that.

The law should show – without a shadow of a doubt – that hatred towards disabled people is just as damaging to individuals, communities and wider society as hatred towards people of a different race, religion or sexuality.

We understand that a disability-aggravated offence will result in little difference to a standard offence and sentence uplift in many ways. But we believe that its existence will mean the potential hate element of a crime is investigated from the start - so motivating factors are not overlooked and strong evidence is available to judges when they give sentences. What's more, the ‘label’ on the offender will be more accurate, and show what must be tackled in rehabilitation if we are to truly deal with the problem.

We also believe that there is a real need for an offence against stirring up hatred towards disabled people. When this offence was extended to incitement of homophobic and religious hatred in 2010, it was considered unnecessary to extend it to disability as there was no real evidence that hatred towards disabled people was being stirred up. But Mencap has been involved in two incidents in the last year which have shown us that there is a gap in the law.

The first was in December 2012, when we discovered that a UKIP candidate for election to Kent county council had posted on his website calls for a review into the NHS, including a look at "compulsory abortion when the foetus is detected as having Down's, spina bifida or similar syndrome which, if it is born, could render the child a burden on the state as well as on the family". Mencap publicly condemned the comments, as did many people with a learning disability, their families and friends. The man was subsequently suspended as a UKIP candidate.

The second incident came to light in February 2013 when we were informed that a Cornwall councillor had told a disability charity worker that "disabled children cost the council too much money and should be put down". A formal investigation was started after he told the Disability News Service he believed there was a good argument for killing disabled babies with high support needs because of the cost of providing them with services. He likened this to a farmer killing “misshapen” lambs. The council found him guilty of misconduct but did not have the power to fire him. Cornwall Police received many complaints but judged that he had not committed a crime, so he didn’t face charges.

By having no legal penalty for this, we are saying that we have no problem with someone denying disabled people’s right to life – and, in fact, advocating their mass killing. Aside from the practical benefits to reform of the law, fundamentally Mencap believes the law does not currently reflect how most people feel about this issue. The law should show – without a shadow of a doubt – that hatred towards disabled people is just as damaging to individuals, communities and wider society as hatred towards people of a different race, religion or sexuality.

That’s why we’re calling for change, and this week – as it’s hate crime awareness week – we urge the Government not to miss this opportunity to make it happen. Find out how you can help, over here.

By Jo Davies

Twitter: @mencap_charity

SPBisResisting Fri 18-Oct-13 19:08:08

Agreed

DoubleLifeIsALifeHalved Fri 18-Oct-13 19:26:38

Good post. In a time when everyone is squeezed, the already marginalised become very vulnerable. Disability hate crime is on the rise and just general unpleasantness towards disabled people is becoming standard.

I absolutely support changing the law however I do wonder whether the prevailing discourse around disability will stop this from happening, particularly under a government which rather likes to scapegoat us. I hope I am wrong.

The image of the skiving whining disabled layout who is a drain on the nations resources whilst giving nothing back... This needs fighting back against strongly and then maybe people will care about protecting disabled people against hate crimes in an equal way.

DoubleLifeIsALifeHalved Fri 18-Oct-13 19:27:19

Good post. In a time when everyone is squeezed, the already marginalised become very vulnerable. Disability hate crime is on the rise and just general unpleasantness towards disabled people is becoming standard.

I absolutely support changing the law however I do wonder whether the prevailing discourse around disability will stop this from happening, particularly under a government which rather likes to scapegoat us. I hope I am wrong.

The image of the skiving whining disabled layout who is a drain on the nations resources whilst giving nothing back... This needs fighting back against strongly and then maybe people will care about protecting disabled people against hate crimes in an equal way.

kateandme Sat 19-Oct-13 01:51:59

the attitude not just crimes you can be arrested for should be changed.the stigma with dissabilties including mental health is disgusting and even some of the most iomportant people even police and nucrses i have heard making fun

CMOTDibbler Sat 19-Oct-13 10:38:52

The laws around hate crime should be the same for all the groups - it should not be worse to commit a crime against someone on the basis of their race than their disability.

Hate speech should also be equally as unacceptable - I've heard of schools where racist language would result in suspension immediatly, but disablist language is not punished at all

edam Sat 19-Oct-13 18:19:48

Sadly even some SS and mental health professionals are prejudiced against people with disabilities. Especially learning disabilities. And that extends to staff who work in those fields - LD services are part of mental health trusts, and I know of at least one where all the LD nurses are banded lower (ie regarded as less senior) than the mental health nurses doing very similar jobs.

Mental health is a cinderella service, always the least power and least money, but in turn executives and managers in MH treat LDs as a cinderella service

PolterGoose Sat 19-Oct-13 20:11:34

Thank you Jo flowers

Agree with CMOT, I would really like to see a greater understanding of the impact of disablist language and verbal abuse.

I agree that the law should be enforced, and strengthened. I also feel that this government needs to stop the anti-disabled rhetoric in the press, as this promotes an atmosphere in which disabled people are seen as scrounging non-persons.

LeoandBoosmum Mon 21-Oct-13 04:21:30

Totally agree with you, SunshineSuperNova... This government has a lot to answer for in this regard!

Agreed.Good blog.

Although prejudice against people with learning disabilities (maybe other disabilities as well - but my experience is with LD's having a son with severe learning disabilities) is so extensive and 'normal' that many people don't even realise they are prejudiced. There's also a lot of fear about PWLD's & limited understanding of just how vulnerable they are.

Can I just add I love mencap - they really seem to understand the issues better than some other groups. I have a son with severe autism & I often suggest people go to mencap for advice as I have found them spot on so often.

I'm a fellow fan of Mencap. smile

I have a lovely cousin with LD and he has experienced lots of prejudice.

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