Shock and anger over DWP’s hate crime claims


Disabled activists have reacted with astonishment after the government claimed in a new action plan that its sweeping welfare reforms and cuts to disability benefits would help in the fight against disability hate crime.

The new cross-government action plan contains more than 50 measures aimed at tackling hate crime over the next three years.

The plan focuses on challenging attitudes, early intervention, increasing reporting of hate crimes and access to support for victims, as well as improving how the criminal justice system responds to hate crime, including racist crimes and those based on religion and sexual orientation.

The plan also mentions the crucial role disabled people and their organisations will play in combating disability hate crime, including through the government’s new disability strategy, and by helping to address negative media stereotypes.

But disabled people reacted with anger and astonishment after learning that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was also claiming that measures in its new Welfare Reform Act would “reduce the negative media portrayal of disability issues”.

Disabled people have been arguing that the government’s rhetoric on “benefit scroungers” and “fraudsters” has been increasing hostility towards disabled people, particularly through the language of coalition ministers and DWP’s misuse of benefits statistics.

Disabled activists have repeatedly criticised newspapers like the Daily Mail for publishing offensive, disablist and inaccurate stories about disability benefits, based on DWP briefings.

One disabled person told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that DWP was guilty of “institutional discrimination”, while another said she was still “too afraid to go out alone” because of ministers’ rhetoric on disability benefits.

Another who replied to DNS on Twitter said: “I can’t even comprehend it, are they utterly deluded, lying or is policy written by nice [people]with good intentions in a cave?”

Kirsten Hearn, chair of Inclusion London, said the reference in the action plan was “extraordinary” because the government’s welfare reforms had made disability hate crime “much worse”.

Hearn pointed to a report commissioned by Inclusion London, published last October, which found a significant increase in the number of negative stories about disabled people between 2004-05 and 2010-11, while the proportion of stories about disability benefit fraud had more than doubled.

She also called for the government to put much more effort into connecting with grassroots disabled activists, who have been fighting disability hate crime for many years and were “actually at the coal face”.

The new action plan says that strategies for dealing with hate crime “must be developed locally”, with a key role for the new elected police and crime commissioners, while the government’s job was to “set the strategic direction, with a clear and consistent message on the importance of tackling hate crime and protecting victims”.

The government will also publish a response next month to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) inquiry into disability-related harassment. Last September’s Hidden in Plain Sight report called for action across the criminal justice system.

15 March 2012