At least 70,000 disability hate crimes are committed every year, although the true number is likely to be far higher, according to new research by the equality watchdog.
The Crime and Disabled People report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found there were about 72,000 incidents of disability hate crime every year from 2007-08 to 2011-12 in England and Wales.
But it said its analysis suggested that there had been no “statistically significant” rise in the number of disability hate crimes in the four years to 2011-12.
The research was carried out in the wake of the commission’s disability-related harassment inquiry, and its subsequent report, Hidden in Plain Sight, which was published in 2011, so as to provide a measure of what progress was being made in tackling disability hate crime.
Hidden in Plain Sight found that for many disabled people, disability-related harassment was a “commonplace experience”, while the cases that came to public attention, for example through the courts or the media, were just the “tip of the iceberg”.
The new EHRC report – which uses figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (formerly known as the British Crime Survey) and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey – concludes that the extent of disability hate crime is likely to have been “greatly underestimated”.
It adds: “The clearest message from the analysis in this report remains the fact that disabled people in all age groups are more likely than non-disabled people to be the victims of crime.”
Only last week, Bristol Crown Court heard how a disabled man, Bijan Ebrahimi, was murdered after being kicked unconscious, doused in white spirit and then set alight.
Ebrahimi, who lived in a council flat in Brislington, on the edge of Bristol, had been the victim of false rumours that he was a paedophile, which it appears was part of a continuing campaign of harassment.
The EHRC report says there were 15 disability hate crime incidents per year per 10,000 households, and that an estimated 39,000 adults per year were victims of disability hate crime, in the four years to 2011-12.
From 2007-08 to 2009-10, disabled people in England and Wales were more likely to have experienced a crime than non-disabled people, with differences greater in the younger age groups.
Overall, 20 per cent of disabled people experienced a crime in the previous 12 months.
And analysis of the figures showed that disabled 10-15-year-olds were far more likely (22 per cent) than non-disabled young people of the same age (13 per cent) to have been a victim of crime.
The commission is to analyse the figures again in two and four years’ time.
Stephen Brookes, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said he agreed that the extent of disability hate crime had probably remained roughly static, but he said he believed that the “visibility” of such incidents had risen, because “the current climate of cuts has increased the media interest in disabled people and those crimes which are reported”.
But he said his main concern was the level of under-reporting of disability hate crime, and the reasons for that under-reporting.
More than a third of people surveyed said the reason they did not report a hate crime was that “the police could not have done anything”, while almost one third said they believed “the police would not have been interested”, and about one in six said they believed the incident was “too trivial to report”.
Brookes said these figures showed why it was important to continue work on promoting third-party reporting centres – safe, neutral environments where disabled people can report hate crimes – and “increasing the knowledge of what can be reported and breaking down the perception (sometimes sadly justified by some police forces who are well behind others) that nothing will be done”.