Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Commission calls in evidence on disability-related harassment in Britain

Responses sought from disabled people, public bodies and public transport providers

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is investigating whether public bodies and public transport providers are fulfilling their legal obligations to prevent disabled people from being harassed.  Councils, police forces, schools and other public bodies as well as bus, train companies and other public transport providers found to be failing in their duties could face enforcement action.

Every working day at least one person on average appears in court charged with a crime against a disabled person 1, nearly half of which involve violence.  Evidence already gathered by the Commission 2 suggests that many more incidents of targeted violence or hostility go unreported or are not dealt with properly by social housing bodies, social services teams, crime prevention units, public transport and other public bodies in Britain.  

The Inquiry is examining how victims of disability-related harassment, which includes name-calling, intimidation, bullying or violence, have been supported by public bodies and public transport providers. It is also looking at what prevention measures bodies such as the police, social services, schools, or bus companies have put in place in England, Scotland and Wales.

Members of the public are being asked if they sought help from any public body or transport provider and what support they got, either as a result of being harassed because of their disability or because of their connection to someone who is disabled.  The Commission is working with organisations of and for disabled people or crime victims to help gather evidence.  Public bodies and transport providers are being asked to disclose what steps – if any – they are taking to meet their legal duties.

At the end of the Inquiry, councils, the police, schools, social housing and other public bodies, bus and train companies 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.

The Commission has previously written to Hinckley and Bosworth Council asking it to provide evidence it is compliant with its legal duties following the Coroner’s Inquest into the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca.

Mike Smith, lead Commissioner for the Inquiry, said:

“Harassment in public places and behind closed doors is an everyday part of life for many disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.  This harassment is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst, and the fear it creates can limit people’s lives and opportunities.

“Media reports of the appalling treatment of disabled people at the hands of their abusers are horrific reminders of what can ultimately happen when public bodies don’t act or don’t know what to do.

“By highlighting the failures as well as learning from examples of good practice, the Commission’s Inquiry will help public bodies try to ensure that future tragedies are prevented and transform the way that the people of Britain value and respect disabled people.

“We have taken two months to listen to the views of stakeholders and to get their support.  The Inquiry will be all the better for including disabled people in every stage of our investigation.”

Maria Miller, Minister for Disabled People, said:

“I fully support and welcome the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s inquiry on disability harassment.  

“Bullying and harassment can all too often escalate into serious hate crimes against disabled people that we have all heard about. Harassment in any form is totally unacceptable.   Everyone in society has the right to live life in safety and with security. For disabled people and for those people with long term health conditions, safety and security is a right that can’t be taken for granted.

“This is why I would strongly urge disabled people and disabled people’s organisations to become involved: to help inform the inquiry about the types of harassment experienced by disabled people and, to share their examples of positive work being done to tackle disability hate crime.” 

The first wave of evidence will be collected until Friday 10 September 2010.  It can be given directly to the Commission via its website, email and helpline (telephone or textphone).  Evidence can be taken in disabled people's preferred formats where required.

Thirteen evidence gathering events have already been organised and more are in the pipeline. These will be held around Britain in the next three months and will be publicised locally. Disabled people, organisations of and for disabled people or crime victims will be invited to attend.

The Commission can also use its legal powers to call public bodies to account, either by compelling them to give evidence or by summoning witnesses.  Hearings will be held from September 2010.

More information about the Inquiry and how to give evidence can be found on the Commission’s website at www.equalityhumanrights.com/disabilityharassmentfi, by sending an email to disabilityharassmentfi@equalityhumanrights.com or by contacting the Commission’s helpline by telephone or textphone: 

England:          Telephone: 08456 046 610                Textphone: 08456 046 620

Scotland:         Telephone: 08456 045 510                Textphone: 08456 045 520

Wales:              Telephone: 08456 048 810                Textphone: 08456 048 820

Notes to Editors

For more press information contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255 during normal office hours or out of hours on 07767 272 818.


1 Cases per week are based on Crown Prosecution Service figures (see below for sources). The calculation was: (576 defendants) divided by (52 weeks X 2 years) = 5.54 defendants per week

Crown Prosecution Service, Hate Crime Report 2008-2009

  • “In the two years ending March 2009, 576 defendants were prosecuted for disability hate crimes ... 76% of completed cases resulted in a conviction ...” p42
  • “Offences against the person were the most numerous category, representing 45% of disability hate crime prosecutions in 2008-09... Public order, theft and handling, sexual offences and robbery accounted for 11%, 12%, 7%, and 6% respectively, burglary 8%.” p47, with some edits
  • The Crown Prosecution Service’s legal guidance defines “offence against the person” as including assault, actual or grievous bodily harm and attempted murder.

A copy of the report can be found at: http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/equality/

2 Promoting the Safety and Security of Disabled People

The Commission’s report, Promoting the Safety and Security of Disabled People, can be found on our website.

Terms of Reference for the Inquiry

Full details of what the Inquiry will look into are set out in the Terms of Reference, which can be found at: www.equalityhumanrights.com/disabilityharassmentfi. The Commission held a 12-week consultation on the scope of the Inquiry and has acted on a number of recommendations from stakeholders. The findings of the consultation are available on the Commission’s website and via its helpline.

Evidence collection

Disabled people are invited to submit evidence in their own words or via a questionnaire. Disabled people, organisations of and for disabled people or crime victims will be invited to attend one of the regional events, details of which will be coming shortly. A pack is available to support any organisation that wants to hold its own evidence session.

Definition of disability-related harassment

Disability-related harassment is unwanted, exploitative or abusive conduct against disabled people, including bullying and hate-crimes. Harassment creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment and violates the dignity, safety, security or autonomy of the person experiencing it. Note that a list of the forms of disability-related harassment included in the Inquiry is given in the Terms of Reference.

Public sector duties

The Commission has produced guidance to help public authorities understand what their duties and responsibilities are and how these duties should be implemented. In this Inquiry, 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.

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. 

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