Councils failing on disability hate crime, says user-led research


newslatestLocal authorities have failed to put policies in place to combat disability hate crime, more than two years after the publication of a major report by the equality watchdog, according to new user-led research.
The research was carried out by members of the Respond Action Group (RAG), all people with learning difficulties who volunteer with the charity Respond in London.
The action group sent questionnaires about disability hate crime to the chief executives of all 33 London local authorities, and then followed up with “mystery shopping” calls by two RAG members to Respond’s own council, Camden, and the seven that failed to reply to the questionnaire.
The results showed two-fifths of the councils answering the questionnaire had no strategy in place to implement the seven core recommendations of Hidden In Plain Sight, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report on disability-related harassment, which was published in September 2011.
But they also found that two-fifths of councils had no disability hate crime policies at all.
Four councils admitted they did not record and monitor disability hate crime, while another two failed to answer this question.
Nearly half of the councils do not have any disability hate crime information on their websites, and only three of those that do also include an easy-read version to make the information more accessible to people with learning difficulties.
Among its core recommendations, Hidden In Plain Sight called for “all frontline staff who may be required to recognise and respond to issues of disability-related harassment” to receive effective training, and for “real ownership of the issue in organisations critical to dealing with harassment”, such as local authorities.
Some councils were praised for their responses to the RAG questionnaire, with Barking and Dagenham, Bromley, Southwark and Sutton providing positive answers to all 10 questions and offering extra detail about their services and policies.
The mystery shopping exercise saw RAG members June Patterson and Harry Reynolds each ring the general enquiries number for all eight councils, and tell the council staff they spoke to that they had been spat at and verbally abused at a bus stop.
But both Patterson and Reynolds faced problems in dealing with the automated and voice-prompt telephone systems, which the report says are a “major barrier” to people with learning difficulties, and potentially breach the councils’ equality duties.
Patterson said: “It was confusing, I didn’t know which buttons to press to get help. It’s no wonder people with a learning disability don’t report hate crime.”
Staff at all but one of the eight councils – Camden was the exception – claimed during at least one of the two phone calls that disability hate crime was not their responsibility, and advised the mystery shopper to call the police instead.
Apart from one of the calls to Camden, the staff Patterson and Reynolds spoke to showed no awareness that a disability hate crime had been committed, and provided no names or contact details of services to call for support.
Patterson told an event held to launch the research: “I think it’s important that we take this report and say to [local authorities]: ‘Look, what are you going to do?’ We should make sure we are strong and [tell them]something should be done.”
After the launch, asked what his priority for change would be, Reynolds told Disability News Service: “The one thing I would change is to make it easier for people with learning disability when they are on the phone to the council.”
Patterson added: “To make sure that they listen to people with different types of disability.”
Louise Wallis, co-author of the report and Respond’s policy and campaigns officer, said: “We take the issue of disability hate crime very seriously, because of the many disabled people who have died.
“Councils need to wake up to the fact that their telephone systems are not accessible and that they need to provide disability hate crime training to all their frontline staff.”
9 April 2014