Podcast: Uniting against disability hate crime

The Disability Download

This episode explores the topic of disability hate crime – what it is and how people can be allies to disabled people.


Sapphire Beamish: Crime is on the political agenda. We need to make sure that disability hate crime is not forgotten.

Rebecca Waugh: The main sorts of crimes that we would see coming through continuously would be harassment, criminal damage, antisocial behaviour and assault… So it can be a really, really massive impactful thing.

Sapphire Beamish: So being an ally can include offering support in a way that's safe – by offering to be a witness and just being in the area to help. This can help the person by showing that they do have support in their community

Beth Wilshaw: Hello and welcome to the Disability Download, brought to you by pan-disability charity Leonard Cheshire. On this podcast we respond to current topics, share stories and open up conversations about disability.

Today my colleague Nick is discussing the challenging but important topic of disability hate crime. We welcome guests from Leonard Cheshire and from United Response who can tell us more about how our organisations are combatting hate crime.

Nick Bishop: So I'm here with Sapphire Beamish, Press Manager at United Response – a charity that works with us at Leonard Cheshire to combat hate crime. Welcome, Sapphire.

Sapphire Beamish: Thanks, Nick. It's great to be here.

Nick: Thank you. So first of all, can you give us a definition of disability hate crime?

Sapphire: Yes, absolutely. And this is really important. A disability hate crime is a crime that involves hostility that is motivated by hostility based on someone's disability or their perceived disability.

Nick: Right. Thank you for that. So how does this differ from disability hate incidents?

Sapphire: There is a difference between a hate crime and a hate incident. A hate incident is any incident which is based on someone’s prejudice towards them… but not all hate incidents will amount to a criminal offence. So no law is broken. But they're still really important to report and can have a hugely negative effect on the person targeted.

Nick: Of course. Thank you for that. So explain to us a bit about the project from Leonard Cheshire and United Response. Give us a bit more background.

Sapphire: Our disability hate crime awareness campaign is a joint project that launches ahead of Hate Crime Awareness Week in October. As some of you may already be aware, we research numbers of reported disability hate crimes each year by sending Freedom of Information requests to police forces to gather a lot of statistics.

These include the overall number of disability hate crimes… as well as the number taking place online or involving violence against person… and then how many actually result in a charge, or summons to a court, for the offenders. So this year and last year, we also asked about crimes with an intersectional element.

And that's because hate crimes are also motivated by other characteristics such as race and gender and religion. And so this has been a hugely successful project for the last few years and it's raised a lot of awareness about disability hate crime.

Nick: Fantastic. So what can we expect to see from this year's project?

Sapphire: So despite all the work we've done, there is still an aspect of under reporting in hate crimes. The trend over a number of years is showing high levels of hate crimes committed. And last year's figures were particularly high, though this may be driven by improvements in crime recording by the police.

We've been also looking at the outcome of these reports. And sadly the number of reports ending in a charge or summons being very low, in fact lower than the national average for crimes types. So not just hate crime. So that [all crime charge rates] usually sits around 5.7%, which means that you're less likely to get an outcome of a charge or summons for a hate crime than other crimes, which is something that we really want to improve.

Nick: So this year we're focusing on the importance of allyship. Can you explain why that's so crucial?

Sapphire: So United Response and Leonard Cheshire ran focus groups to talk to people with lived experience and knowledge of the campaign. And one of the outcomes from this focus group was the idea of allyship, and wanting allies to have a better understanding of the long-term effects that disability hate crime can have.

So being an ally can include offering support in a way that's safe – by offering to be a witness and just being in the area to help. This can help the person by showing that they do have support in their community. And it can also show that that if they do want to report to the police, then they already have a witness statement to support their case.

Nick: Sure. Yeah. That's great. Is it fair to say that the two main political parties haven't made any commitments on disability hate crime?

Sapphire: Unfortunately so. We have engaged with a number of MPs across the government and opposition benches. So earlier this year we met with the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Tom Pursglove, and his team at Westminster.

And then we met with the Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Vicky Foxcroft. It was equally stressed to them both the need to tackle reporting values and to increase disability awareness. And we’ll continue to push this. Crime is on the political agenda. We need to make sure that disability hate crime is not forgotten.

Nick: Of course. And what else are campaigners calling for this year?

Sapphire: The government has recently announced its intention to merge proposals to tackle hate crime into a broader crime strategy. So we're calling on the government to reverse this decision and focus on developing and publishing the bespoke hate crime strategy, in close consultation with stakeholders and their families. We are also continuing to push for police services to receive more funding to have a dedicated Disability Liaison Officer that's trained in disability awareness and engagement.

Nick: Right. Excellent. Where can people get support if they're affected by hate crime?

Sapphire: Hate crime can be a really difficult topic to talk about for many people. So if you or anyone you know is struggling with abuse, it's important that you do something to help. Then you can contact a number of organisations, such as one called Victim Support. And there's a full list of charities who can support in relation to hate crime on the Leonard Cheshire and United Response web pages.

Nick: Thanks very much, Sapphire. That's really useful. When should people look out for more on this? When are we going to be releasing more data?

Sapphire: So we'll be releasing more information on 2 October, And so it would be great for people, if they want to find out more, to look out for that then.

Nick: Brilliant. Thanks again to Sapphire. Next we’ll be finding out about a great project in Northern Ireland to support victims of hate crime. The Hate Crime Advocacy Service is a partnership of several organisations including Leonard Cheshire, Victim Support NI, Migrant Centre NI and the Rainbow Project. Together they work to support all victims of hate crime including, of course, disability hate crime. You can find out more about the Hate Crime Advocacy Service at HCASNI.com. That’s H.C.A.S.N.I. com

So I'm here with Rebecca Waugh and Jolena Flett. Rebecca works for Leonard Cheshire in Northern Ireland. She's part of our hate crime advocacy service and so is Jolena Flett, who works for Victim Support Northern Ireland. Welcome, both of you.

Jolena Flett: Thank you.

Rebecca Waugh: Thank you very much.

Nick: So can you both explain more about your roles in the Hate Crime Advocacy Service, please?

Jolena: Would love to! So as Victim Support is coordinating it, um, it's been a really good experience to see how the partnership has developed. One of the great things that we have now is actually a three-year contract with the police to provide the services. The advocacy service, really at its core, is making sure that people are linked to the help and support that they need.

And thankfully, we were able to find the right partners at the right time – like Leonard Cheshire, the Migrant Centre for Northern Ireland and the Rainbow Project – to help us protect the different groups of people, make sure that they are advocated for. And really just understanding how the strength of working together has been able to bring us to a point now where we do feel like we have a constructive relationship with the police, where we were able to report back what's working and what's not working. We are able to show statistics.

We are able to give good feedback from people who are experiencing these things on the ground and we are really just able to have a very coordinated strength –– in in terms of our voice and in terms of being involved in it and just seeing how much of a difference has been made by all of these organisations coming together.

You know, and having this partnership, looking at how we've been able to feed into each other. I know, in terms of in particular, people who come who have intersectional needs because we are never just one thing. And being able to coordinate support across the different organisations. So someone who's maybe from the Polish community but who also has a disability knows that they will be receiving support from organisations that understand what needs what their needs are, who aren't going to try and do a ‘one size fits all’ approach and will be able to advocate for them in the best way that they can. I think it is a real great achievement.

And I think it's great that we've been able to do this in Northern Ireland and to show a unity in response to something like hate crime as a really great example of good practice – in terms of how we want to support people, but also in terms of how we want to work with the criminal justice system. And how that [good practice] benefits both the criminal justice system, and us as charities working on the ground, and ultimately the people who are suffering from the crimes that happen.

Nick: Yeah. Thank you very much indeed. And Rebecca, can you explain a bit more about your role?

Rebecca: Yes, of course. So, my kind of day-to-day areas of direct support with clients and victims would be investigative support. So as Jolena has rightly said, we have our partnership with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland). So we have good connections with the PSNI and able to provide that investigative support: liaising with the investigating officers, building relationships and communicating with the community police teams in different districts. And referring into the crime prevention officers within the police service as well. Linking with the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships – the PCSP's -across, uh, Northern Ireland as well.

So we do also support with elements of housing as well. So often individuals are targeted within their own homes and may require support in their home or may wish to actually be rehoused into a different area so we can support with that process as well. We would also sign post and refer individuals into our partner agencies. The unique part of having the partnership is that we are able to refer in to each other's services for that more specialized, um, support for individuals.

Nick: Rebecca – can you explain a bit more about the disability hate crime that you see affecting people in Northern Ireland?

Rebecca: So given our contractual partners, you know, we are very unique in the fact that we have a close relationship and partnership with the PSNI and Department of Justice here. So the majority of our referrals are coming in via the police. So when the report has already been made. We do receive self-referrals. And again because of our partner organisations we would get referrals in through them as well. But I would say the majority would come through the police [the PSNI].

The main sorts of crimes that we would see coming through continuously would be harassment, criminal damage, antisocial behaviour and assault. We would have a lot of kind of neighbourhood disputes. Groups of youths, also a common trend that we would see again and again. So hate crime and incidents have a huge impact on individuals – who may already be facing chronic pain, fatigue, mental health issues. Individuals feel much more isolated, more so than maybe they've already been facing.

So it can be a really, really massive impactful thing. And often it's repeated and it's continuous. It would [be] very rare that it would be kind of a one-off incident – although those do happen – but more often than not it is something that umm, continues on and on again.

Nick: Unfortunately across the UK, we find that very few disability hate crimes result in a charge. Although it is higher in Northern Ireland – the charge rate – than the rest of the UK, which is encouraging. What action would you like to see to help change this and create better results for disabled people?

Rebecca: Yeah. I feel that there needs to be more highlighted across the board on hate crime… not, not just from a disability point of view from all of our partner agencies and individuals that are facing hate crime so. So I do feel individuals need to be more reassured and encouraged to report these crimes and incidents. And of course, as an advocacy service, we will certainly encourage and support people through that. We do a lot of awareness raising in the service as possible and but there needs to be much more done throughout our communities as well, not just from ourselves.

I would say education is also very important and a key way for others to understand disability as a whole: understand that disability can affect people in many, many different ways, and it's not always visible. You know, there are disabilities that aren't, you know, clear to someone from that face value. So there's ongoing reviews taking place here in Northern Ireland regarding hate crime legislation. So the Department of Justice commissioned an independent review of hate crime legislation in 2019. So Judge Marinan published his final report of his review of hate crime legislation in Northern Ireland, in December 2020. So there is a need for legislation to be reviewed in order for hate crime to be tackled much more effectively within the criminal justice system. And we support with intersectional cases.

So, due to the culture here in Northern Ireland, there can be, at times, not only those other types of hate crime but sectarian hate crime is a factor… and can cause difficulties for victims as well. We support, you know, as best we can, making sure they're referring to other services for support. And this [sectarian hate crime] can increase fear for individuals in terms of reporting these particular incidents and crimes.

Jolena: Yeah. And I mean, I think as well, it's really important to recognise the impact that not having a legislature in place has on being able to support the different communities and the people who are experiencing these things. Because all of these changes that we're looking at and all of these improvements that we want to make in terms of the review, it can't really go anywhere.

Specifically within Northern Ireland, [it’s about] not having a government in place that can help move some of these things forward. We really need to get things moving because we can't continue in this standstill. It's great that Northern Ireland has a higher level of recognition maybe in terms of when people are charged for hate crime. And there's certainly awareness within the police community, in terms of training and in terms of the different things that they've done. There’s certainly is a lot of movement and a lot of good practice that's out there. But in order to make that sustainable, in order to make that stick, you have to have a strength of legislative framework.

Because when people are attacking people because of who they are, it evolves and modifies in a way that you have to be able to keep up with the best approach. Because with all of the good work that we are doing, and with all of the training and awareness that the police have, there is still massive under reporting – particularly within certain categories – because of the general messages that people are getting just in terms of who we are as a society.

And the feeling that no one's gonna care that this is happening to them, and they just need to accept that this is part of living here and being someone who is… who is othered. And so I think a strong message is needed to come from our leadership. And at the moment, you can't do that if you refuse to sit at a table and govern.

Nick: Yeah. That makes sense. And I hope that power sharing in Northern Ireland can return as soon as possible, as we all do. This campaign will focus on allyship and non-disabled people being good allies to disabled people, and particularly those who are affected by disability hate crime. So how do you see the importance of allyship in Northern Ireland?

Rebecca: So, as we've said a couple of times there previously, you know, we are unique in the fact that we're made up of our partnership organisations. And I think there is a strong focus on the fact of the way our service is set up that really does focus on allyship and that partnership and that and community really. So this allows for support in every community, and providing support to one another as well.

So we would also attend events in communities to raise awareness of hate crime in all characteristics – in all areas, not just within one. You know, we would attend the Pride parades and events as a partnership organisation. So it's very important for us to show that level of community really. And I feel it does send a clear message: that we're not just for our own one community. But we are for all communities and allowing everybody to feel safe.

Nick: Great. Jolena. Did you have something to add on allyship?

Jolena: Yes, obviously that is something that we're pushing hard for. And making sure that people understand the strength and importance of working together. And how much you can accomplish by persevering as a partnership, which is so much easier than trying to go on your own. In light of that, for National Hate Crime Awareness Week in Northern Ireland, we are having an event on 19 October.

And it is the hate crime advocacy service that is organising the event. And the hashtag is: #WorkingTogether. And so it'll be running online from 10:00AM to 4:00PM on 19 October. And you can go to our website, HCASNI.com, to find out more information and to register. So we really hope that people will join us because we want to make it a very interactive day.

We'll have lots of different speakers talking about just ways that we can tackle hate crime. And one of our keynote speakers is Tim Chapman, who has been doing a lot of work around restorative justice... and how we can use restorative justice as a way to not only address hate crime, but to look at how we can heal communities. And a different way maybe of looking at how we move forward and how we get people justice.

Nick: Well, that sounds like a brilliant event. And we'll, we'll put details in the show notes. That sounds absolutely fantastic. Thank you so much, both of you, for your contributions on this and it's really, really appreciated. And thanks for all the work you do on such an important topic.

Jolena: Thank you for having me.

Rebecca: Thank you very much, Nick. Thank you.

Beth Wilshaw: A big thanks to our guests for a fascinating episode. Our disability hate crime research will be available via the Leonard Cheshire website at leonardcheshire.org and via the United Response website. You can find details of support organisations in the show notes.

We’d love to know what you think. So get in touch by emailing us at disabilitydownload@leonardcheshire.org. Or you can contact us on Twitter or Instagram, @LeonardCheshire. If there’s a guest you’d like to hear, reach out to us and let us know. And don’t forget to like, share and subscribe to the podcast. Thank you for listening to the Disability Download.