Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Commission to investigate disability related harassment and role of public authorities

Commission to hold Inquiry into harassment of disabled people.

The Commission today announced that it intends to conduct a Formal Inquiry into disability related harassment in England and Wales and how public authorities are protecting disabled people’s human rights to live free from violence and abuse.

The announcement comes on the United Nations ‘International Day of Persons with Disabilities’.  The Commission is the UN accredited human rights body for Great Britain with specific responsibilities to promote and monitor implementation of the recently ratified Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Commission plans to use its legal powers to investigate the true extent of disability-related harassment and take appropriate action based on the evidence uncovered.

At the end of the Inquiry, public authorities found not to be doing enough to tackle the problem and to protect the human rights of disabled people could face legal action to force them to comply with their legal obligations.

Evidence already gathered by the Commission indicates that targeted violence or hostility towards disabled people is widespread in Britain. People with learning disabilities or mental health conditions in particular experience high levels of victimisation.

A report on the safety and security of disabled people published by the Commission earlier this year found that disabled people are four times more likely to be the victim of a crime than other people and are twice as likely to be the victim of a violent attack.

Mike Smith, Commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“There have been many well-documented cases where targeted hostility, bullying and antisocial behaviour has escalated into more serious violence, murder or the death of disabled people.

“The recent inquest into the tragic deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca show that early intervention and preventative action are essential, and that public authorities have to work in partnership to tackle this problem effectively.

“Disabled people experiencing harassment can become conditioned to hostile treatment, or are sometimes told to ignore it by those around them – including by public authorities. They may also go to enormous lengths to avoid putting themselves at risk which can limit their freedom and opportunities. These are unacceptable outcomes for anyone in our society.   

“Individual incidents can also have a much wider ‘ripple effect’, as other disabled people become aware that targeted violence and hostility is happening in their community may then fear for their own safety.”

The Commission will shortly publish draft Terms of Reference for the Inquiry, for consultation. Final Terms of Reference will then be published before the Inquiry begins in early 2010. The Inquiry will then report its findings within one year.

The Inquiry will gather and examine evidence from disabled people and others who have been affected by disability-related harassment and from public authorities on what steps they are taking to tackle the issue. 

In particular, the Inquiry intends to look at the steps taken by public authorities to eliminate disability-related harassment and to address its causes, including prejudice and negative attitudes; and how public authorities have ensured the involvement of disabled people in eliminating harassment and its causes – for example by effective joined-up reporting procedures.

The Inquiry may also aim to identify examples of good practice in eliminating disability related harassment and addressing its causes.

The Commission will consider how public authorities have complied with their obligations in relation to the Disability Equality Duty set out in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Human Rights Act, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Commission has produced guidance to help public authorities understand what its duties and responsibilities are and how these duties should be implemented. 

For more press information contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission media office on  020 3117 0255 , out of hours  07767 272 818 .

For general enquiries please contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s national helpline: England  0845 604 6610  / Scotland  0845 604 5510  / Wales  0845 604 8810 

Notes to Editors

Promoting the Safety and Security of Disabled Peopl
Find out and download the Commission’s report: Promoting the Safety and Security of Disabled People.

Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006, which took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission.  It is the independent advocate for equality and human rights in Britain.  It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights.  The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender status, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act.  It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals. 

UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities

This is an annual observance day set up by the United Nations which has a different theme each year. This year’s it is “Making the MDGs Inclusive: Empowerment of persons with disabilities and their communities around the world”. More details can be found at on the UN site.

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