Disability Hate Crime
The essence of hate crime is that a person is targeted because of who they are. If their identity relates to race, sexual orientation, transgender identity, religion or disability, then this can result in a crime being considered a hate crime with harsher penalties.
This month I was invited by Police Scotland to attend an event on disability hate crime in Colinton alongside community police officers. This was part of a Hate Crime Awareness week organised by police in South West Edinburgh. It is heartening to see initiatives such as this raising awareness of the problem and disseminating information on how to report it. Not only can you report hate crime to your local police but there are a number of third-party organisations who will report it for you. Police Scotland have a full list of these on their website.
It was a wonderful opportunity sharing a stall with the police to publicise disabled hate crime and interesting to speak to members of the community. I had a sense that there was a lack of awareness of the kind of harassment and violence that disabled people can experience on a regular basis and I can confirm that not everyone I spoke to believed that disabled people were on the receiving end of such harassment.
In 2017 to 2018 there were 274 convictions for disability related hate crime in Scotland. This represented a 50% increase on the previous year. There is evidence to suggest that disability hate crime is underreported across the UK and initiatives such as the Police Scotland publicity campaign are aimed at tackling this.
The kinds of hate crime that are not likely to be disputed as having a massive impact on the victim are those which include overt violence. However definitions of hate crime include name-calling and lower levels of harassment such as vandalism or posting of offensive literature. Over a period of time, being on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour can be both frightening and undermining of physical and mental health.
Disproportionate and sensationalist focus in the media on fraudulent claims for disability benefits or inappropriate use of blue badges for parking have no doubt fuelled a perception of large amounts of public money being claimed deceitfully. According to a BBC news item on the subject published 5th June this year, public perception is that around 25% of benefits paid are fraudulently claimed when the actual figure is 1.1%. The kind of outrage which this has prompted is no doubt a large part of what fuels the kind of harassment many disabled people face on a regular basis.
Those who suffer from invisible disabilities can frequently suffer harassment as they go about their everyday life especially if their condition or mobility issues require them to use disabled parking bays or disabled toilets. You don’t need to search far to find examples of news reports of people experiencing this.
These are examples where people have assumed that a person is not entitled to use a parking bay when they are out and about shopping. Upsetting as these incidences of name calling, notes and public shaming are, it can often be even more frightening when this harassment is from neighbours who know you and know where you live.
In the course of my work with disabled people over the years, and in conversations with disabled friends, I have heard of long term, ongoing issues with neighbours who have targeted individuals with disabilities by cracking eggs on cars, shouting names, blocking driveways, and filming them and reporting them to the DWP as fraudulently claiming benefit. I have also had many conversations where people have told me that they ‘know for a fact’ that someone near them gets disability benefits who isn’t entitled to them. I have been told that someone has ‘forgotten to use their walking stick’ so they mustn’t need it.
The reality is that pain and capability can fluctuate from minute to minute with some conditions and that no two individuals are the same even if they suffer from the same condition. Mental illness can also profoundly affect people and yet not show at all on the outside.
Are all of these kind of events ‘hate crimes’? Possibly not. Are they perpetuated by people who are full of hate – again mostly not. Do they add to the burden of stress and illness for disabled people? Absolutely.
If there is someone who you think is improperly claiming some kind of privilege due to a disability then examine what you know about them. What do you absolutely know? Is it that you see no evidence of incapacity? Do they look young and fit? Do they use a stick one day and not the next? Know that these observations say very little about what that person is experiencing or their level of disability.
If you feel you are being harassed because of your disability, there are people who can help. You can find information in our info guides below or you can call and speak to us in Disability Information Scotland and we can direct you to local organisations who may be able to help.