MPs win praise for online abuse proposals

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MPs have won praise after calling on the government to ensure disabled people finally secure equality in the protection they are offered by hate crime laws.

Members of the Commons petitions committee said in a new report that it was not right that it was a crime to incite hatred on the grounds of religion or race, but not disability.

The petitions committee was publishing draft recommendations following an inquiry into the online abuse of disabled people, and said it hoped its work would be “a wakeup call” to the government.

It has now launched a consultation on its recommendations before it publishes its final report – the first time a Commons committee has taken such a step – so that disabled people and their allies can respond to its draft proposals.

Among those recommendations is for the government to introduce a new law that would make it a crime to incite hatred against disabled people, a long-standing demand of disability hate crime campaigners.

Anne Novis, a leading disability hate crime campaigner and chair of Inclusion London, said: “I am thrilled to see the recommendation from this inquiry, which include most of the recommendations we submitted in writing and I gave verbally at the inquiry meeting (pictured), and other Deaf and disabled people gave via a testimonies session which Inclusion London helped to organise.”

She said the government had repeatedly failed to listen or respond to “repeated evidence and requests for equity in law on hate crime”.

Novis welcomed the recommendation that disability should be included within hate crime incitement laws, and that there would be “a full and inclusive consultation” on the committee’s draft proposals.

She added: “I hope we will see an appropriate and timely response from this government that does not ignore us, or defer responding, as it has done re disability hate crime for many years.”

In its report, the committee attacked the government’s “shocking” failure to consult disabled people in drawing up its online safety strategy, and warned social media companies that they had been “neglecting the needs of their disabled users for far too long”.

Helen Jones, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “It is deeply disappointing that social companies don’t engage fully with their disabled users.

“With their vast financial resources, there’s no excuse for their failure to make their platforms as safe for disabled people as they are for other users.”

She said the inquiry showed that social media was “rife with vile, degrading and dehumanising comments” about disabled people. 

The committee called for mandatory teaching in schools on disability hate crime, and for the government to develop an action plan to address the exploitation of people with learning difficulties, both online and offline.

The committee said: “In our inquiry, we have come across some examples of good practice in attempting to meet the needs of disabled people and their families.

“More often, though, we found that disabled people were not being consulted or even considered.

“This was particularly apparent in the very disappointing evidence we received from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and heard from social media companies.

“We do not intend to make the mistake of ignoring disabled people here.”

The inquiry was launched in response to a petition set up by former model Katie Price, which was signed by more than 220,000 people and followed years of disablist and racist abuse targeted at her teenage son, Harvey.

The committee rejected Price’s call for a register of offenders, similar to the sex offenders register, but said the government should look at other ways of making it easier for employers to find out if someone has been convicted of online abuse.

Jones said: “We’ve listened to disabled people to come up with our recommendations to tackle online abuse of disabled people and we will spend the summer listening to them again.

“By launching this consultation, we want to make it clear that the voices of disabled people must be heard.” 

She added: “It should be normal practice for select committees to consult on their recommendations, so I’m pleased that the petitions committee is taking this step.” 

 

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