A shadow minister has backed calls by disabled activists for new measures to tackle the harassment of disabled people.
Fiona Mactaggart, Labour’s shadow equalities minister, spoke out following the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) major report into disability-related harassment.
She told Disability News Service that addressing the problem of “bullying and harassment” had to be a key priority for her party, so that disabled people could “feel on equal terms in society”.
She said: “It is so unacceptable and we need to find ways of more effectively punishing perpetrators.
“If you are scared of being a victim it stops you playing an equal part in society. Fear limits your capacity to do things, or your willingness to attempt to do things.”
Mactaggart said she believed that the report showed there was probably a need for a new offence of incitement to commit a crime on the basis of disability-related hostility, as there is for incitement on the basis of racial or religious hatred.
The shadow minister said she believed that trying to change society – as campaigners did to tackle sexism – would not be enough.
She said: “We have got to have something stronger. You can’t just do it through social action.”
She said many police forces did not appear to have a strategy for effectively prosecuting the perpetrators of disability-related harassment.
She added: “At the moment, the police strategy [in some forces] is ‘cross your fingers and hope it will go away’.”
Mactaggart said there was a need for a new specialist unit within police forces that would focus on disability-related harassment and disability hate crime, which would liaise with disabled people’s groups, educate frontline police officers and have a “strategic attitude” to prosecuting such offences.
She added: “The EHRC report really does show that where there is some of this expertise and working in partnership, these issues are much more effectively dealt with than in places where there is not.”
28 September 2011