Lockdowns trigger surge in disability hate crime

Online disability hate crime soared by more than 50% across England and Wales during 2020/21, disturbing new figures reveal Wednesday 6 October 2021.

Emma in her wheelchair outside a door with blurred moving traffic in front of her
  • Criminals not deterred by lockdowns, as increasing numbers headed online to abuse disabled people, pushing online disability hate crime rates up 52%.
  • Over 9,200 disability hate crime reports to police, with half classified as ‘violent’- involving assault and possession of weapons.
  • The same individuals continue to torment disabled people across England and Wales, with repeat offender rates rocketing by 89% on 2019/20.

This latest police data, gathered by leading disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response ahead of Hate Crime Awareness Week, shows a huge spike during a period when much of the population was forced to stay at home during national and regional lockdowns.

*Abi, from Yorkshire said:

“I had almost 50,000 followers on a social media platform when I was targeted by trolls that set up hate pages. The abuse was motivated by the fact that I have autism and am a member of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“They revealed my real name and where I lived. The social media platform just told me to make my account private but took no action to identify the trolls or remove their hateful content. The police also just told me to unlink or deactivate my social profiles.” 

The latest findings also show in-person hate crime still plagued many disabled people’s lives during lockdown. Worryingly, almost half of the disability hate crimes reported last year were ‘violent’ (44%). These included assault and crimes involving weapons.

The charities conducted in-depth consultation with a range of disabled people to find out more about individual experiences of disability hate crime.

Sandra from Wales told the charities:

“I fell outside my flat and was knocked unconscious. An older man, that I knew, came to my aid but when the paramedic came, they found him fondling me. He told the police something along the lines of ‘she’s disabled, who cares’, and ‘it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to her’. Even after this incident, he kept bothering me with verbal intimidation and abuse, with his daughter getting involved and threatening to ‘beat me up’.”

Cassie from London told the charities:

“Disability hate crime is uniquely isolating. When a woman pushed me off a ramp and out of my wheelchair I had no idea what to do. I barely realised my experience was a disability hate crime, and when I did I had no idea where to turn to for support, if it was worth reporting to the police, and how the people in my life would react when I told them”.

While there were more than 9,200 individual cases reported to police across England and Wales in 2020/21, equating to around 25 disability hate crimes a day, just 1% of cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or charged. Given these outcomes, it is perhaps little wonder that repeat offender rates for disability hate crime are up by 89% on the previous years.

Leonard Cheshire and United Response commented:

“Many disabled people we spoke to said they wouldn’t report their hate crime to the police, so our findings are likely to scarcely scratch the surface of the true scale of these horrific incidents. 

“The stories we’ve heard suggest many police officers do not have a good understanding of disability. So we’re calling for a specialist disability liaison officer in every police force. We want the government to make disability hate crime easier to report too. We hope the upcoming Home Office Hate Crime Strategy will address just this. 

“We also heard about the awful, long-term impact these crimes can have on individuals; leaving them isolated and frightened to leave their home. Clearly there needs to be disability specific support for victims.

“The government has a role to play in preventing hate crimes altogether. One of the most important steps in tackling hate crime is creating a more accepting society where differences are tolerated. The government’s National Disability Strategy promised a disability awareness raising campaign. That should be an opportunity to educate everyone, including young people and those in school, about disability hate crime.”

United Response and Leonard Cheshire are asking everyone to show they stand against disability hate crime, by sharing their latest findings with the hashtag #NoPlaceForHate and by signing up to their disability hate crime campaign.

View our interactive map to see disability hate crime levels across England and Wales.

Media enquiries

For more information, case studies, interviews and high-res images please get in touch with Leonard Cheshire’s press team on 07903 949 388 or Claire.Farrell@leonardcheshire.org and Erin.O'Reilly@leonardcheshire.org or the United Response press team on 0208 246 5237 or at press@unitedresponse.org.uk.

The campaign sign up and interactive map will be live from 6 October 2021

For advice on how to report a hate crime, please visit: leonardcheshire.org/hatecrime

An easy read guide on how to report hate crime is also available.

*Name changed to protect identity.

Notes to editors

The charities are both calling for the upcoming Online Safety Bill to strengthen legislation around what constitutes harmful activity online. 

They both say disability should be named as a specific protected characteristic supported by the legislation and look forward to seeing the Law Commissions’ final recommendations in this area.

The bleak findings from the joint investigation are released today ahead of National Hate Crime Awareness Week, which starts on Saturday 9 October 2021.

About this study

Learning disability charities Leonard Cheshire and United Response received Freedom of Information (FOI) responses from 39 police forces across England and Wales. Nearly two thirds of these forces reported increases in disability hate crime for 2020/21.

Not every police force provided figures for each question asked, but all 39 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.

Savanta ComRes research

Leonard Cheshire and United Response commissioned research consultancy Savanta ComRes to conduct focus groups with disabled people who have experienced hate crimes to better understand their experiences.

The focus groups were conducted with disabled people living in England, Wales and Scotland. Respondents shared their experiences of disability hate crime and the reporting process, as well as what they would like to see change. The charities will be releasing a summary report based on their findings.

Savanta ComRes is an independent research consultancy specialising in public policy and communications, and sits within the wider Savanta group.

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.