The Equality and Human Right Commission (EHRC) has launched a three-point plan to address violence and hostility towards disabled people.
The plan came in its new report, Promoting the Safety and Security of Disabled People, which found that disabled people are at greater risk of being victims of targeted violence and hostility.
People with learning difficulties and those with mental health conditions face the greatest risk, according to the report.
But the report also revealed that many disabled people are reluctant to report violence and hostility because they believe authorities will not take any action. It found a severe under-reporting of incidents and said disabled people can often be deemed “unreliable witnesses”.
In the year to March 2008, only 183 defendants were prosecuted for crimes involving disability incidents, despite the high prevalence of reported and anecdotal incidents.
But in the three years to March 2008, more than 33,000 defendants were prosecuted for crimes involving racial or religious aggravation, and more than 2,400 defendants prosecuted for homophobic or transphobic crimes.
Last September, the outgoing director of public prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald QC, described the shortage of prosecutions for disability hate crimes as “a scar on the conscience of criminal justice”.
The EHRC plan calls on all public bodies to meet their legal duty to promote positive attitudes and eliminate hostile behaviour towards disabled people. The commission is to review how well they are meeting these responsibilities.
The commission will also work with the criminal justice system to remove barriers to justice for disabled people. This includes barriers to reporting, recording, prosecution and convictions. It will also use its legal powers to intervene in court cases.
As the third part of its plan of action, the commission will distribute grants to advocacy organisations to ensure that the most marginalised disabled people have a voice to challenge such offences.
But it said it will also carry out further research into the causes of hatred, prejudice and hostility.
Trevor Phillips, chairman of the commission, pointed to the murders of Brent Martin and Steven Hoskin, who both had learning difficulties and were “viciously killed by those who befriended them”.
He said the two cases were “conspicuous flashes of an often silent bullying menace on our streets, on our housing estates, on our buses and trains, in our schools and, increasingly, online and on mobile phones”.
He added: “We all want disabled people to be able to go out and play a full part in their community but too often a trip to the pub, the shops, the swimming pool or work is such an ordeal that it seems easier to narrow their horizons, to stay indoors. This is a hidden catastrophe that we need to address.”
Mark Goldring, chief executive of the charity Mencap, said: “The number of abhorrent acts of violence against people with a learning disability is shocking. The government and all parts of the criminal justice system must take responsibility.”