Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Agencies should do more to tackle disability related harassment.

Authorities need to take further steps to ensure that harassment of disabled people is taken more seriously and doesn't escalate into the situation Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca found themselves in five years ago, the  Commission said yesterday.

In 2011, the Commission carried out a ground-breaking inquiry into disability related harassment, which found that there was a systemic failure by public authorities and transport operators to prevent disability related harassment.

A follow-up report issued yesterday details the responses since then from government, authorities and transport operators. It shows that many are taking significant steps, making progress, individually and collectively, towards making a real difference. These steps include:

  • A commitment to monitoring Section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act and data sharing which will help to identify 'at risk' individuals;
  • Addressing cyber bullying; and
  • Tackling anti social behaviour in social housing.

But the Commission's evidence shows that actions taken to prevent and tackle harassment are patchy with some authorities doing nothing or very little at all.

The Disability Hate Crime Network still shows daily postings of reports on attacks against disabled people. Disability hate crimes recorded by police forces in England and Wales for 2011/12 increased by 24.1% on the previous year which suggests there are more hate crimes towards disabled people or more people feel comfortable reporting it. Yet other figures show that less than 3.0% of disability related hate crime is reported or recognised as such.

In its report  'Out in the Open: a manifesto for change' issued today, the Commission makes recommendations in 7 strategic areas which need to be addressed if disability harassment is to be reduced:

  1. Improved reporting, recording and recognition of disability related harassment so disabled people know their account of being tormented or worse, is taken seriously at every stage. This also makes it easier to capture the true extent of harassment if we know if the victim was singled out because they are disabled.
  2. Gaps in legislation and national policy to be addressed, such as tougher use of sentencing for those found guilty of harassment and more involvement of disabled people in public life e.g. jury service.
  3. Adequate support and advocacy to be provided, especially for those with a learning difficulty who may need someone to speak up on their behalf or provide emotional support.
  4. Improved practice and shared learning. Government and others need to work together to drive up standards and learn from any mistakes.
  5. Better redress and access to justice. A disabled person’s account should be equally as credible as a non-disabled person’s in a court of law.
  6. Improved prevention, deterrence and understanding of motivation. If research is invested in understanding why people commit these crimes, it will be easier to profile potential perpetrators and thus intervene earlier on.
  7. More transparency, accountability and involvement of disabled people in developing policies and responses to disability related harassment.

Mike Smith, lead Commissioner for the Disability Harassment Inquiry, Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

'We welcome the commitment and leadership shown by government and others in relation to our recommendations, but there is still much that we can and should be doing collectively as a society. The public's response to the London 2012 Paralympic Games will go some way to creating more positive attitudes towards disabled people. But there is still a discrepancy between this and the day-to-day reality for many disabled people who report abuse and often suffer from a 'postcode lottery' in the way their allegations are dealt with.

'The issue of disability-related harassment might be "out in the open" but it is, most certainly, not yet sorted. It is incumbent upon us all, especially in times of austerity, to work to overcome this blight on our society.'

For more press information contact the Commission's media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818.

Notes to editors

The report 'Out in the Open: a Manifesto for Change' by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, October 2012 can be downloaded at www.equalityhumanrights.com/disabilityharassmentfi

On 23 October 2007 Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca Hardwick died after years of abuse despite countless calls for help to the authorities. The inquest showed that early intervention and preventative action are essential, and that authorities have to work in partnership to tackle this problem effectively.

Mike Smith, lead Commissioner for the Disability Harassment Inquiry, is available for press and broadcast interviews. Please contact the press office to arrange.

The Equality and Human Rights 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 reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, 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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