A leading user-led organisation has been criticised for asking the minister for disabled people to help launch new guidance on disability hate crime, while failing to invite the media.
Maria Miller and other work and pensions ministers have faced repeated criticism for stirring up hostility towards disabled benefits claimants over the last 12 months, particularly through their language and their department’s misuse of benefits statistics.
Two weeks ago, ministers were warned by disabled peers that their rhetoric on disability benefits was fuelling an atmosphere of hatred and hostility towards disabled people.
But despite these criticisms, Miller was asked to speak at the launch of new disability hate crime guidance, which has been written by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) with backing from the government’s Office for Disability Issues.
DR UK failed to invite any media to the event, held at Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) offices in Whitehall, while DWP later refused to make a copy of Miller’s speech available to Disability News Service (DNS).
Anne Novis, a leading disability hate crime campaigner, criticised the decision to invite Miller to speak at the launch.
She said: “There has to be a line drawn between what is acceptable and what is not.
“Maria Miller has crossed the line many times with the distorted facts and figures on disability benefits that she has used, and her comments about the unsustainability of supporting and caring for disabled people.
“She has not supported a decrease in disability hate crime in her language. In the way she works, she has increased that.”
Ruth Bashall, an activist who works to address violence against disabled people, said: “As a grassroots activist I was not invited. Had I been there I would have been asking some very searching questions of the minister for disabled people.
“Politicians need to recognise that they are encouraging hatred towards disabled people and also creating fear among disabled people, some of whom are actually too frightened to claim what are supposed to be their entitlements.
“The way they are labelling disabled people as a drain on resources is actually impacting on our safety and is making us more likely to experience hostility and hate crime and harassment.
“I am sure a lot of disabled people would have liked an opportunity to ask questions directly about the link between disability hate crime and demonising disabled people.”
She welcomed the guidance but said what was really needed was proper funding to tackle hate crime.
DR UK itself told DNS earlier this month that DWP had “deliberately fuelled hostility towards disabled people”, for example by describing “disabled people” and “taxpayers” as different groups in its press releases.
DR UK declined to comment on its decision to invite Miller to the launch.
The new guidance includes: a guide for disabled people on what a disability hate crime is, why it should be reported, and how to report it; a similar guide for non-disabled people; and a third guide to help disabled people’s organisations that want to set up a third-party hate crime reporting site.
The launch came as a new report by the Trailblazers group of young disabled campaigners found that up to four-fifths of young disabled people believe the police do not take disability harassment and hate crime seriously enough.
Nearly two-thirds of those questioned for the Under Investigation report believe they have been or may have been the victim of a disability hate crime, while only four out of ten of those who have been harassed or abused have reported the incident to the authorities.
Marc Pyle, from Swindon, said: “People regularly taunt me for the way I walk, which has changed due to the muscles in my legs weakening.
“The perpetrators are usually big groups of men, who like to shout comments or mimic my walk.”
Even after he was physically assaulted by a gang of young men, he said the police “didn’t really seem to care”, took three hours to get to the scene and then “as no-one was prepared to act as a witness they said there was nothing they could do”.
23 February 2012