Sector-related resources

There is a systemic failure by public authorities to recognise the extent and impact of harassment and abuse of disabled people, take action to prevent it happening in the first place and intervene effectively when it does. These organisational failings need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and the main report makes a number of recommendations aimed at helping agencies to do so. Specific sectors have a key role to play in responding to harassment. This series of briefings set out the key areas for improvement and our specific recommendations for each sector.

Housing

Modern flats

Extract from Housing briefing paper

Our research suggests that disability related harassment is widespread but under-reported by disabled people and often unrecognised by public authorities. It often occurs at or near people’s homes and can take the form of non-criminal antisocial behaviour and minor/‘petty’ crime, at least initially. Where harassment happens at or near someone’s home, it is often repeated. Unchecked, repeated harassment can escalate in frequency and severity. By contrast, prompt action, often by agencies working together, can bring it to an end. Housing agencies have a role in both preventing harassment and in responding more effectively when it does occur.

Key areas for improvement for housing

  • Increase reporting of harassment
  • Recognise that anti-social behaviour may be disability related
  • Investigate, recognise and record harassment as disability related
  • Provide better support for disabled victims
  • Intervene effectively to prevent escalation
  • Strengthen safeguarding
  • Strengthen communication and partnership working

Other housing sector resources

Police

Police officers on street with a person in an electric wheelchair

Extract from Police briefing paper

Reporting, recognising and recording

There is a substantial gap between the amount of harassment that disabled people experience, the amount that they report to the police and the amount that is recorded as disability motivated. There are large variations in recorded figures for disability related hate crimes across police forces. These variations appear to reflect differences in police practice rather than in incidence of hate crime.

Recognition

The low rates of recorded disability hate crimes suggest a lack of recognition of hostility/prejudice to disability as a potential motivating factor for either anti-social behaviour or crime. The Inquiry considered the deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter Francecca Hardwick, and of David Askew, which were preceded by extensive anti-social behaviour. Both cases were also investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission who criticised the police for failure to recognise the anti-social behaviour as motivated by hostility to disability.

Addressing domestic violence against disabled people

The Commission’s definition of harassment covered a range of forms of behaviour including domestic violence. In situations of domestic violence, it can be particularly difficult for disabled victims to end the relationship and build a new safe life. All the respondents in Women’s Aid Federation England’s (WAFE) research into the needs of disabled victims of domestic violence said that ‘being disabled made the abuse worse, and also severely limited their capacity to escape or take other preventative measures’.

Key areas for improvement for the Police

  • Increase reporting of harassment
  • Investigate, recognise and record harassment as disability related
  • Provide better support for disabled victims
  • Recognise that disability related motivation may exist alongside other motives
  • Improve investigation and evidence gathering
  • Intervene effectively to prevent escalation
  • Improve communication with other agencies

Other Police resources

Transport

Train on a station platform

Extract from Transport briefing paper

Harassment of disabled people takes place in many different settings but public transport has been identified as a particular hotspot. On and around public transport, including stations, stops, ticket offices and waiting areas were settings for harassment incidents cited in almost every focus group and interview conducted for the inquiry. These affected respondents’ lives not only because of the intrinsic features of the incidents themselves but also because many disabled people rely on public transport.

Respondents mentioned being stared or laughed at, avoided and commented on by other passengers. They also talked about other passengers showing impatience or annoyance, for example if they were slow or took up a lot of space with aids such as assistance dogs, sticks, frames and wheelchairs.

Download the full briefing

Key areas for improvement for Public Transport

  • Increase reporting of harassment
  • Investigate, recognise and record harassment as disability related
  • Reduce potential for conflict over shared space
  • Work with schools and police to reduce harassment by young people
  • Provide better support for disabled victims
  • Intervene effectively to prevent escalation
  • Improve communication with other agencies

Prosecutors

Gavel

Extract from Prosecutors briefing paper

The relatively low number of crimes prosecuted as disability related is at odds with other evidence received by this Inquiry indicating the widespread nature of harassment of disabled people. The low rates of disability hate crimes recorded by both police and prosecutors suggest a lack of recognition of hostility/prejudice to disability as a potential motivating factor for crime.

The Inquiry investigated nine murders of disabled people and a tenth case where the perpetrator was initially charged with murder. Only one of the ten was prosecuted as disability hate crime.

Hostility/prejudice to disability does not have to be the sole motivation for a case to be prosecuted as hate crime. However the cases considered by the Inquiry seem to suggest that where another motive is evident, it will be put forward as the sole motive, rather than considering disability alongside it. Where another motive is not evident, the crime might be considered to be motiveless. There is no data available about the numbers of murders where the victim is a disabled person so it is not possible to consider this against a wider base of cases.

Key areas for improvement for Prosecutors

  • Improve recognition of offences as disability related across crime types
  • Recognise that disability related motivation may exist alongside other motives
  • Prosecute offences as disability related where there is evidence of hostility/prejudice either as sole or partial motivation
  • Avoid plea-bargaining out the aggravation
  • Provide better support for disabled victims to give best evidence including improving access to ‘special measures’
  • Ensure access to justice for victims of harassment, including those who might have been viewed as lacking credibility in the past
  • Improve communication with other agencies 

Health

Paramedic in an ambulance

Extract from Health briefing paper

Our research suggests that disability related harassment is widespread but under-reported by disabled people and often unrecognised by public authorities. Harassment can have short- and long-term impacts on both physical and mental health and few disabled people who participated in our research claimed to be unaffected.

The NHS is often involved in dealing with the impacts of harassment, tending to injuries and treating anxiety and depression. Health professionals can be the first or only contact that a disabled victim of harassment has with a public authority. As such they can play a significant role in supporting the victim to find a route to ending the harassment and finding safety. Health services have done much to improve their responses to domestic violence in recent years. As well as benefiting disabled victims of domestic violence, this approach could benefit victims of other forms of disability-related harassment.

Key areas for improvement for Health

  • Increase recognition and reporting of harassment
  • Provide better support for disabled victims
  • Strengthen safeguarding
  • Strengthen communication and partnership working
  • Improve response to wider health needs
  • Recognise tackling harassment as a priority

Other health resources

Schools

School children

Extract from Schools briefing paper

' You’re right to identify [a] pivotal role for education in shaping attitudes and values.’

David Bell, Permanent Secretary, Department for Education, inquiry hearing, 27 January 2011

Schools have a significant role to play in addressing disability related harassment through:

  • increasing integration and inclusion of disabled pupils into society on an equal basis with non-disabled pupils
  • reducing fear of difference and encouraging understanding of diversity
  • dealing effectively with bullying of disabled pupils, both at school and outside it
  • dealing effectively with pupils harassing disabled people in public places and on public transport.

Ofsted have placed equalities and human rights at the heart of their approach to regulation and inspection in England. The inspection framework for schools includes specific questions about:

  • how schools are meeting their equalities duties
  • whether there are different outcomes for different groups of children
  • how schools are dealing with bullying.

Ofsted has introduced a ‘limiting judgement’ on equalities performance which means that schools cannot be judged as excellent if their equalities performance is inadequate.

Key areas for improvement for schools and colleges

  • Promote positive attitudes to disabled people
  • Better integration of pupils who are disabled or have special educational needs
  • Increase reporting of harassment and bullying
  • Recognise that bullying may be motivated by hostility or prejudice against disabled people
  • Intervene effectively to prevent escalation of bullying
  • Better support for disabled pupils
  • Reduce harassment of disabled people by pupils outside school, particularly on public transport
  • Improve joint working with other agencies

Adult safeguarding

Woman in wheelchair looking out of window blinds

Extract from Adult safeguarding briefing paper

Our research suggests that disability related harassment is widespread but under-reported by disabled people. Whilst most harassment is unlikely to trigger the need for a safeguarding intervention, some cases of harassment, particularly where it is ongoing, may require public authorities to investigate and take action to safeguard the victim.

As part of this inquiry we examined a number of very serious cases of harassment in which disabled people have died or been seriously injured. Ten of these cases are considered in the full report of the inquiry. We found that the appalling abuse of disabled people has been greeted with disbelief, ignored or mishandled by authorities, with tragic consequences. The cases give us some clues as to how and why such behaviour happens, and how, even when it is of a very extreme nature, it can go unchallenged. They show that a failure to tackle harassment can have dreadful results, both for the victims and also for society as a whole.

Key areas for improvement for Safeguarding

  • Increase reporting of harassment
  • All agencies should refer safeguarding concerns to adult safeguarding services for further investigation
  • Adult safeguarding services should refer all cases where harassment amounts to criminal behaviour to the police
  • Intervene effectively to prevent escalation
  • Replace concepts of individual vulnerability with a focus on risk of harm
  • Implement rights based approaches to safeguarding
  • Provide better support for disabled victims
  • Promote safeguarding as everybody’s business
  • Improve joint working and communication between agencies
  • Improve serious case review process and sharing of lessons 

Local Government

Town hall sign

Extract from Local Government briefing paper

Local councils play a key role in delivering and commissioning services to meet the needs of their communities, leading partnerships with other agencies and planning a better future for their locality. Local councils are at the heart of the localism agenda, making decisions closer to local people. In order for disabled people to play an active role in this new local democracy, and ensure issues like disability-related harassment are seen as priorities to be tackled in their areas, local authorities will have to address the methods by which disabled people are engaged and involved, including strengthening their accessible voting mechanisms, engagement strategies and representation of disabled people in all areas including in public office.

Our evidence shows the most critical factor in organisations improving their performance, is the level of commitment and determination to address the issue shown by their leaders. Local councils have the opportunity to show such leadership on disability related harassment not only within their own organisations but within the partnerships that they lead and the communities that they work for.

Key areas for improvement for Local Government

  • Provide leadership in partnerships and within the community
  • Promote positive attitudes to disabled people
  • Increase reporting of harassment
  • Recognise that anti-social behaviour may be motivated by hostility or prejudice against disabled people
  • Intervene effectively to prevent escalation
  • Better support for disabled people
  • Develop a corporate approach to safeguarding
  • Improve joint working with other agencies

Other Local Government resources

back to top