Justice Gap Widens: Disability hate crime charges continue to drop

Victims of disability hate crimes are unlikely to receive justice, according to figures obtained by Leonard Cheshire and United Response.

Kerry Thompson in a formal black dress in a garden
  • 10,740 disability hate crime reports across England and Wales in 2022/23.
  • Disability hate crime reports that result in a charge or summons drop to just 1.2% (132).
  • Poll indicates 66% of the public think people should offer to be a witness if they saw a disability hate crime. But ‘evidential difficulties’ is still the main reason for stalled charge rates.

Using figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to all police forces in England and Wales, the two charities found that just under 11,000 disability hate crimes were reported between April 2022 and March 2023.

The data showed that roughly half of these reports involved violence and over 1,300 occurred online. While disability hate crime reports are down by 3.7% from the record numbers of incidents in 2021/22, they are still higher than pre-pandemic figures.

Despite the drop in hate crime reports, just 132 cases (1.2%) resulted in a charge or CPS referral.

Across England and Wales, 36 of the 43 police forces provided figures on disability hate crimes. Around half (23) provided further data about outcomes resulting in no charge. We found that ‘evidential difficulties’, ‘victim withdrawing’ and ‘no suspect identified’ were the three most common reasons for victims to go without redress.

The police data showed ‘evidential difficulties’ and ‘no suspect identified’ account for 55% of all the reported no charge outcomes.

The charities commissioned a YouGov poll to discover more about public attitudes to combatting hate crime. When asked about witnessing a disability hate crime, 86% of the public think people should offer support to the victim if safe to do so. Of those who believe people should offer their support to victims of hate crimes, 76% think people should offer to be a witness.

Kayleigh, from London, experienced disability hate crime but was supported during the incident. She explained how it impacted her: “I get a feeling that someone’s going to say something to me. ‘It’s alright’, I say. ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ But it’s not easy."

Because not all hate crimes are reported, their prevalence is severely underrepresented.

Kerry, from Milton Keynes, told the charities:

 “As someone who has faced abuse online and offline, I can understand not reporting it to the police. I didn’t want to be seen as a “victim” or a burden. I thought I could handle it, just ignore it or even brush it off. “

Despite the long-lasting impact of being targeted by a hate crime, the government announced it will not publish a new Hate Crime Strategy that was promised in 2021.

The disability charities are calling on the government to reverse its decision to merge an anti-hate crime strategy into a wider plan to tackle general crime. The government must instead focus on developing and publishing a bespoke hate crime strategy, in close consultation with stakeholders and their families.

Leonard Cheshire and United Response commented on the findings:

“We need to narrow the justice gap between the number of disability hate crimes recorded and the number of offences resulting in a charge. There are real people behind these numbers and once a person has been a target of hate, they can be utterly changed.

“We are asking the government to rethink the plan not to publish a hate crime strategy. If they want to set targets for police responses to crime, then disability hate crime should be a key focus, not brushed aside.

“Our research shows people want to help in a safe way. We need everyone to be allies in the fight against disability hate crime.”

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Notes to Editors

Research methodology

Disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response received Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from 35 police forces across England and Wales. The responses covered disability hate crime in financial years 2021/22 and 2022/23.

34 police forces across England and Wales provided intersectional figures. 

Findings about investigation outcomes are based on responses from 23 police forces. 

26 police forces provided information about Disability Liaison Officers. 

Not every police force provided figures for each question asked, but 35 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 disability hate reports were up in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

A full dataset is available upon request. 

Key findings (England and Wales)

  • Total disability hate crimes
    • 2021/22:  11,157
    • 2022/23: 10,740
  • Total disability hate crimes involving violence 
    • 2021/22:  5,622
    • 2022/23: 5,497
  • Total disability hate crimes recorded as taking place online
    • 2021/22:  1,377
    • 2022/23: 1,348
  • Total disability hate crimes resulting in a CPS Charge or Summons
    • 2020/21: 215
    • 2021/22: 132
  • Intersectional crimes (crimes involving disability and at least one other protected characteristic)
    • 2021/22:  1,040
    • 2022/23: 1,005

The public poll figures are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,157 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15 - 16 August 2023.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

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.

We provide bespoke support, from 24-hour care to a few hours a week, at around 400 locations across England and Wales. We employ approximately 4,000 staff and are regularly recognised with awards for our innovative, high quality range of services.