A Freedom of Information request has revealed that the number of disability hate crimes has soared since the 2008 financial crisis, leading to concerns that the “anti-scrounger” rhetoric employed by the Coalition is leading to hostility and aggression against the most vulnerable members of society.
The Independent reports that disability hate crime has doubled since the start of the financial crisis in 2008, yet yespite the rise, the number of people convicted for the crime actually fell last year. A total of 1,942 disability hate crimes were recorded by police forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2011 while only 523 people were found guilty of a disability hate crime – down 5 per cent from 2010.
I remember when the rhetoric from both government and the media was very much anti immigration and immigrants and asylum seekers seemed to be blamed for most of the issues that Britain was facing. Now the focus and blame has shifted towards other vulnerable members of society – those on benefits and those with disabilities. “Benefit scroungers”, as well as the welfare state itself, are being blamed for much of the economic crisis and the deficit. This rhetoric has allowed the Coalition to effectively attack and slowly attempt to dismantle sections of the welfare state and the public sector, all the while blaming “scroungers” and the most vulnerable members of society.
“There are historical parallels,” says Katharine Quarmby, the author of Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People, who has grown alarmed by the levels of “benefit scrounger” abuse aimed at disabled people. “If you have a group that is blamed for economic downturn, terrible things can happen to them.”
“Iain Duncan Smith [the Work and Pensions Secretary] is saying ‘We’re going to push through these benefit reforms’ and hinting strongly that lots of people on disability benefits are scroungers,” Quarmby says. “That kind of rhetoric leads to disability hate crime on the streets.”
- Last year the Glasgow Media Trust found the public believed between 50 and 70 per cent of those on disability benefits were fraudulent. The actual number is likely to be between 1 and 2 per cent.
- The same report found that there has been a tripling in the use of words such as “scrounger”, “cheat” and “skiver” in tabloid stories on disability in the past five years.