Disability hate crimes rise to record levels

Disability hate crime reports across England and Wales have risen again – but alleged perpetrators continue to escape justice, new figures obtained by charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response reveal.

Melissa posing in her wheelchair
  • Record numbers of disability hate crime reports in 2021/22, with 11,224 made to police forces in England and Wales.
  • Over half the reports involved an element of violence, up by 27% on the previous year. 
  • Just 1% (129) of disability hate crimes reported to police were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or resulted in charges.
  • Disability hate crimes involving other protected characteristics like race, gender and religion are up by 26% in the last year.

More than 11,000 (11,224) disability hate crimes were reported to police between April 2021 and March 2022. This is a 25% increase on the previous year. Just 1% of these cases resulted in a charge or CPS referral. 

Thirty-six out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales provided data following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by Leonard Cheshire and United Response. 

Because not all incidents are reported, the recorded number of offences could be the tip of the iceberg. This was underlined by the experiences of victims. 

Rachel, from Leeds, commented:

“There are so many things about hate crime that, in hindsight, I wish I'd known. Where and how to report a hate crime, how to be the best witness possible or simply the fact that hate is not an unavoidable part of disabled life to be put up with. If the reporting process was demystified and support more visible, I believe more people would come forward.”

Leonard Cheshire and United Response first began gathering data from forces using current methods in 2018. The number of reported disability hate crimes for 2021/22 were more than double those recorded in 2017/18. Reports of crimes involving an act of violence were also twice as high in 2021/22 than in 2017/18, while reports of online crimes were three times higher.

Melissa, from Lancaster, told the charities:

“I was afraid when a man took control of my wheelchair and wouldn’t release me for a mile, but was it a crime? Did this man who repeatedly heard me say “no” as I begged to be released cross a criminal line? Was it a hate crime?”

Barriers to reporting disability hate crime include a lack of appropriate support for disabled victims, leading to people feeling overwhelmed or lacking confidence in the criminal justice process. Variations in disability and diversity training for officers could be playing a part. Only one police force in England and Wales reported having a dedicated disability liaison officer. 

The very low rates of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) referrals and charges in 2021/22 were explored by United Response. It found investigations most commonly ended due to evidential difficulties and victims withdrawing support for the investigation despite having a named suspect.

Leonard Cheshire and United Response commented: 

“Record levels of reports coupled with a distinct lack of justice paint a worrying picture that these crimes are not being taken seriously enough. 

“We’ve heard from many disabled people about the traumatic consequences of their awful experiences and the damage on their lives. The prevalence of disability hate crime is unacceptable, and every report has a real person and real story behind it.

“Some forces are proactively trying to improve their responses and others can learn from this. But there needs to be widespread investment in training among officers so that support for victims improves and they get the justice they deserve. Government funding and action is vital so police have the resources they need to reduce prejudice and hate in our communities.”

The two charities are also preparing to release a report, ‘Say No to Disability Hate Crime’, which will examine recent trends and make recommendations to police forces and the government to help curb these crimes.

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Notes to editors

Research methodology

Disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response received Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from 36 police forces across England and Wales. The responses covered disability hate crime in financial years 2020/21 and 2021/22. Over three quarters of forces said reports disability hate crime increased in 2021/2022.

37 police forces across England and Wales provided intersectional figures. Findings about investigation outcomes are based on responses from 26 police forces. 22 police forces provided information about Disability Liaison Officers. 

Not every police force provided figures for each question asked, but 36 forces gave overall disability hate crime figures for their region – data which forms the bulk of this comparative study.

All percentages included in this release have been rounded to the nearest whole figure.

Levels of reports were also up in Scotland and Wales.

Full dataset

Key policy calls - summary

Leonard Cheshire and United Response believe that the following things need to happen to mitigate the impact of disability hate crime:

  • The national curriculum should directly address ableism. Changing attitudes among children and young people, and raising their awareness of ableism’s harmful manifestations, will be positive step to addressing disability hate crime.
  • All police forces should receive appropriate central funding to appoint at least one dedicated Disability Liaison Officer trained in disability awareness and engagement. The Officers would be able to support their colleagues in disability awareness, as well as providing a link to the disability community and the issues they face.
  • The government should invest in ways to mitigate disability hate crime’s impact, publish its hate crime action plan, and better support people who experience disability hate crime.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service should convene its proposed panel of Disabled People’s Organisations and other stakeholders as a matter of urgency.

About United Response

United Response is a top 100 national charity that provides person-centred support to around 2,000 adults and young people with learning disabilities, mental health needs or physical disabilities – including some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Our vision is a society of equal rights and access where disabled people have the opportunity to live the lives they want to lead.