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Disabled People: Violence

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what provision has been made to prevent violence against disabled people.

My Lords, the Government have a comprehensive programme of action to tackle all violence. Violence against disabled people, when motivated by that disability, is a hate crime. The Home Office is leading the development of the cross-governmental action plan to tackle hate crime and the Race for Justice Programme, led by the Attorney-General, is developing a cross-governmental approach to the way the criminal justice service responds to it.

My Lords, I know that my noble friend’s department is trying very hard indeed, but the fact remains that nearly one-half of disabled people are subject to violence. We must be far more active in preventing that violence by working with them. Does he agree that many organisations representing disabled people in Britain have great skills, knowledge and information but their work is not being harnessed properly? Will my noble friend consider inviting all these organisations—or at least the leading ones—to discuss the matter so that the Government can co-operate with them as strongly as they can?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very good point. This is not an area I had looked into in any great detail and I was absolutely horrified when I began to do so and saw some of the percentages of disabled people who are subject to violence. For example, 71 per cent of those with mental health needs had been subjected to a hate crime at least once in the preceding two years. Such figures are quite awful and quite horrible. We do talk to the various groups and initiatives are being undertaken such as the No Secrets review, to which we are responding, and the Getting Away with Murder review. I absolutely commit the Government to talk more with these groups because more needs to be done.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in 2007 to 2008 there were approximately 7,000 prosecutions for racially motivated crime and yet only 141 prosecutions for disability hate crime? Does this mean that disability hate crime is much less of a problem, or is it simply that the CPS and the police are failing to take it as seriously as other hate crime?

My Lords, I hesitate to say that they do not take it as seriously as other hate crimes; I think that they do. One thing that is absolutely true is that we have not collected the statistics as well or as accurately as we should. We are now resolving that. It was done on an intelligence basis through ACPO. I do not think that the numbers of crimes that were seen as hate crimes against the disabled accurately reflected the full scale of what was happening. I will give an example, because some of these incidents are so horrible. Steven Hoskin, who had learning disabilities, was assaulted by three individuals, who made him wear a dog collar, fed him an overdose of painkillers and forced him to fall off a viaduct to his death. These are the sort of appalling things that are done. It is absolutely right that we should focus on this and the statistics do not show the scale of it. We are getting to grips with those statistics and we absolutely must do more about it.

My Lords, is it not the case that police forces up and down the country are actively recruiting people with a background of working with people with disability? Those people are now working within police forces and are acting as centres for advising disability groups on how to help their members. Are not those centres already proving to be very successful?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. This is one of the areas in which we are moving forward and it has made a great difference. The response to the Getting Away with Murder review took rather longer than it should have. We are now taking forward its 40 recommendations. The organisational set-up, as my noble friend said, has made a great difference, but we must do more here. We are focusing on it—and we will.

My Lords, twice as many disabled people at work face violence against them than those who are not disabled. Does the Minister agree that there is a case for making sure that the police also take action against employers, who have a duty of care, if they are allowing this sort of thing to happen in their workplaces?

My Lords, I hope that that police action already happens. Perhaps I may get back to the noble Baroness in writing on that because I do not have at my fingertips enough details to say for sure. However, I absolutely hope that it already happens because it clearly is against the law and action should be taken.

My Lords, do the Government accept that their policy of inclusion, at school and among adults, can leave disabled people—particularly the intellectually impaired—vulnerable to bullying and violence? If so—and I think they must—will the Government promote special schools and intentional communities where this problem largely disappears?

My Lords, I do not think that I will go down the route of saying exactly what else should be set up. All that I would say in response is that including people with disability within normal society and normal groups is absolutely the way that any civilised society should behave. It is right that we should try to do that, unless the disabilities are exceptional. We must ensure that people understand that cases such as the example I gave should not be the way that any civilised person behaves. Some of these things are horrendous. I find it quite remarkable and I am appalled that things like that can even happen.

My Lords, the Minister explained why the murders of disabled people such as Steven Hoskin and of course Brent Martin have failed to trigger a root-and-branch review of our approach to disabled people’s access to justice, equivalent to the review taken in the light of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Why is the approach not the same?

My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness will accept that we are getting to grips with this. We are leading on the development of a cross-governmental action plan. The Attorney-General is developing a cross-governmental approach to the way the criminal justice service responds to the problem. We have now responded to the Getting Away with Murder review and we are going ahead with its 40 recommendations. We have developed guidance in terms of the No Secrets review. We are getting to grips with these things and we are making a lot of headway.

My Lords, can my noble friend say what action Ministers are taking to end the cruelties inflicted on children by public authorities changing the diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder to save money, often involving them in preventable bullying due to totally inappropriate school placements?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have those data at my fingertips. Perhaps I may get back to my noble friend in writing.