In the light of yet another disabled person’s death being attributed to continual bullying and harassment the anti-social behaviour figures recently released by police make disturbing reading. It does seem that vulnerable learning disabled people are being targetted by certain groups in our communities and often feel ignored or unsupported by statutory bodies or local people. The EHRC which has figured in the headlines for the wrong reasons this week is carrying out an enquiry into hate crime and their report can’t come enough soon.
Police figures reveal new concerns
More than one in five victims of repeated anti-social behaviour are disabled people, new official figures have revealed.
The statistics are contained in a report published by the chief inspector of constabulary, Denis O’Connor.
He also said that more than half of police forces across England and Wales did not have IT systems capable of automatically identifying people who were victims of repeated anti-social behaviour when they called police for help.
A survey by the inspectorate of 765 people who had reported suffering repeated anti-social behaviour found that 22 per cent described themselves as disabled people. The inspectorate said it would investigate this issue further.
But the survey also found that the police failed to attend nearly a quarter of these incidents.
Repeated anti-social behaviour targeted on disabled people has been a high profile issue since an inquest last September into the death of Fiona Pilkington and her disabled daughter Francecca.
Pilkington killed herself and her daughter after a ten-year hate campaign led by a local gang, much of it directed at Francecca, who had learning difficulties.
Last November, crime reduction minister Alan Campbell told a hate crime conference that their deaths had focused attention on the “torment” that can come from “systematic” abuse.
Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the National Disability Hate Crime Network, said the inspectorate’s survey backed up reports that were being sent to the network’s new Facebook group.
He said: “People do not get abused once – it goes on and on and on.”
And he called for all police forces to introduce software used by Lancashire police, which allows it to recognise repeat victims.
Brookes said it was “not acceptable” that other forces were failing to ensure their IT systems could recognise such people, and added: “People’s lives are being put at risk because of a software issue.”
An Association of Chief Police Officers spokeswoman said there was “ongoing work in relation to this particular area” but it was “complex” and “not a quick fix”. She said Lancashire police was “trialling” the software.
She added: “Fiona Pilkington is a really horrible tragic case but that is not happening every day. It’s an extreme case. A lot of anti-social behaviour is being dealt with effectively.”
ELECTION 2010: Speaker pledges to ‘champion disabled people’
The Speaker of the House of Commons has pledged to be the “disabled person’s champion” in the battle to improve access to democracy.
John Bercow MP, who has a track record of campaigning on disability issues, was speaking to a joint meeting on accessible democracy, held by several all party parliamentary groups, including those on disability, autism and learning disability.
He was speaking two months after the historic speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation – which he chaired – reported on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.
He told the meeting, which was packed with campaigners with learning difficulties, that he wanted the next parliament to “hit the ground running from day one” in improving access, through the induction packs given to new MPs, in the development of accessible facilities in the Houses of Parliament and in the way the House of Commons operates.
He added: “For as long as I am Speaker, I will try to be the disabled person’s champion.
“I hope you will take me at face value and judge me on my record.”
Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference, said political parties had started to “get their house in order” but not all of them yet recorded whether their parliamentary candidates were disabled.
Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, told the meeting that providing equal access to polling stations for disabled voters was “fundamental to democracy”, but added: “I know we are not there yet.”
She said the commission’s research had found dissatisfaction with the voting process was higher among disabled people.
And she said the commission would use its guidance on the accessibility of voting materials to push for change, and would produce a report on access to polling stations at this year’s general election.
She said: “For large parts of our community, voting is anything but accessible. Things are getting better but I want to reassure you that we will keep this under review.”
Eve Rank, a consultant and campaigner with a learning difficulty and a former commissioner with the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), said the DRC had found four years ago that people with learning difficulties living in residential homes were having their voting cards thrown away by staff. She said she couldn’t understand why this was still happening.
Watson said the EC wanted to know if and where this was happening, and if local authorities were not putting people with learning difficulties in residential care on the voting register.
Eagle quells fears over reserved posts
A government minister has finally quelled fears that reserving jobs solely for disabled people might be illegal, following evidence she gave to a committee of MPs in January.
Maria Eagle MP, an equalities minister and former minister for disabled people, told the communities and local government committee that it was illegal to reserve posts for disabled people under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and would remain so under the new equality bill.
Her comments caused consternation among disabled campaigners, as reserving posts is a widespread practice both in disabled people’s organisations and across the wider disability sector.
Following concerns raised about her comments, the committee wrote to the minister asking her to clarify her evidence.
The committee has now published Eagle’s response, in which she says she is “happy to clarify the position in detail which a short verbal exchange could not really cover”.
In her letter, she says that the equality bill, as the DDA does, makes it clear that it is not direct discrimination to treat a disabled person more favourably than a non-disabled person.
She adds: “What this means is that the [equality bill] would not prevent posts being advertised as open only to disabled applicants.”
Eagle also says that the equality bill’s “positive action” measures would allow employers to encourage job applications from people with a particular impairment, for example those with mental health conditions, if they believed that group experienced “particular disadvantage” and their numbers in the workplace were “disproportionately low”.
The bill would also allow an employer to recruit someone with a particular impairment if that was necessary because of the nature of the job, for instance an organisation providing counselling services for young Deaf people that was seeking to recruit a Deaf counsellor because of their “shared life experiences” and use of British Sign Language.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com