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Disabled Children: Online and Verbal Abuse

Volume 785: debated on Wednesday 18 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the rise in online and verbal abuse targeting families with disabled children.

My Lords, this Government abhor all form of hate crime, including disability hate crime, whether it takes place offline or online. That is why we take a cross-government approach to tackling the issue through the hate crime action plan.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am sure she is aware that reports of hate crime against disabled children have risen by nearly 150% in two years. Amanda Batten of the Disabled Children’s Partnership said this week:

“Families often feel like they can’t go into busy public spaces or post images onto social media for fear of being publicly shamed or having to be submitted to people telling them that their child must lack quality of life because of their disability”.

Although the Home Office has said that there have been improvements in reporting techniques, the Government must now address the underlying reason for hate crime’s existence, especially when it is aimed at children. What funding is available to support officers and the justice system in tackling these terrible and shocking abuses of disabled children?

I thank the noble Baroness for her Question. She is absolutely right to raise it. To mete out hate crime against children must be among the worst types of hate crime of all, because they are defenceless. She will have noticed the Home Secretary’s announcement last week that, having provided more than £450,000 to the Metropolitan Police towards the development of an online hate crime unit, we are now developing a national hate crime hub online. We are also working with industry to tackle hate crime. The police are well aware and working with the CPS on understanding why the number of referrals and prosecutions is perhaps not as high as we might have expected. The volume of reporting tells us that people are becoming less reticent to come forward to report what is frightening crime against their children.

My Lords, disability is apparently not listed on Twitter as a specific category, unlike race or religion. Despite reassurances given to Trailblazers earlier this year, it is still not listed. Will the Minister take this up with Twitter as a matter of urgency, as some of the tweets one sees are quite shocking?

I agree with the noble Baroness: not only are they quite shocking, some of them are pretty disgusting. I was unaware that disability was not listed on Twitter, although it certainly is a strand of hate crime. I can tell her that the Home Secretary has been in deep discussion with some of our CSPs, including Google, Twitter and Facebook, and I will certainly raise that back at the department, because I was unaware of it.

My Lords, does the Minister share my disgust that many police services are now categorising what they believe to be the most important crimes to pursue, and that among those being put lower down are hate crime investigations? It is no good having things on Twitter, Facebook and the Government’s list if no action is taken because of this Government’s shoddy reduction in police numbers, which is causing crimes that the public want investigated not to be investigated. Does she share my anger and concern?

I do not agree with the noble Baroness in the sense that reporting has hugely increased. In fact, only this morning I was at the National Black Police Officers Association talking about the very subject of hate crime and getting diversity into the workforce. I disagree about police numbers because the police have the resources that they need to concentrate on the priorities they think are important, and they hold huge reserves.

My Lords, police data on disability hate crime does not discriminate between offences against people with learning difficulties and autism and all other disabilities, yet research shows that more than 70% of people with learning disabilities and autism experience hate crime. Does the Minister agree that we need to record these offences differently if we are to combat them effectively?

I am aware that disability hate crime is not disaggregated in terms of autism and learning difficulties. Faith hate crime is disaggregated in certain police forces. I know that Greater Manchester Police disaggregates faith-related hate crime. I will take that back, but no matter that the police do not disaggregate it, we absolutely need to deal with it with full force because it is utterly unacceptable.

Does the Minister agree that the police will not be able to deal with these crimes, particularly in the case of hidden disabilities, unless they have some training in what these disabilities are and how they can be approached? A lack of knowledge will lead to a great lack of action.

I do not disagree with the noble Lord. The police are well trained in a number of areas and I am sure disability is one of them. I will take that back and write to the noble Lord with details of what training is given to the police to deal with the more sensitive aspects of disability. I know certainly from working in the field of multiple sclerosis I often had reports of people with that condition being very upset because people in supermarkets thought they were drunk.