Severe poverty associated with increased risk of hate crime against people with disabilities


People with disabilities are at increased risk of violence. Mencap’s end hate crime campaign, Stand By Me campaign suggested that as many as 9 out of 10 people with a learning disability had been a victim of hate crime and bullying.

A recent systematic review (Hughes et al) suggested that adults with disabilities were at a higher risk of violence than non-disabled adults, being approximately 1.5 times more likely to be a victim of violence.

There were methodological difficulties with many of the studies Hughes et al. looked at for their review and the authors of this current study were keen to develop the evidence base further.

They use the definition of hate crime used by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers: “A hate crime is any criminal offence that is motivated by hostility or prejudice based upon the victim’s: disability, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or transgender identity”

The authors of this study set out to do a number of things:

  • to compare rates of exposure to violent crime and hate crime among disabled and non-disabled adults in a nationally representative sample of British adults,
  • to compare these rates of exposure among disabled adults with different impairments
  • to look at any association between risk of exposure to violent crime and hate crime among disabled and non-disabled adults and age, gender, and poverty status.


What they did was to carry out a secondary analysis of data from the
U.K. Life Opportunities Survey which is a longitudinal study which looks at the life experiences of disabled people in Britain. The survey is based on interviews with 37,513 individuals aged 16 or older. As well as collecting basic demographic information, the survey also looked at

  • the extent of participation in seven areas of life (employment, education and training, transport, leisure, social and cultural activities, accessibility of buildings, and use of public services),
  • barriers faced in participating in these areas,
  • experience of receiving social care
  • exposure to discrimination and crime,
  • financial situation of the household,
  • specific impairments experienced by participants.

Despite a range of measures to increase accessibility of the questionnaires, it was found that it was not accessible to a number of people with for example severe learning disabilities, and consequently, there were qualitative follow-up studies to collect the views from a sample of people with such impairments. There were also proxy interviews where people were not available or unable to take part due to impairment effects.

The survey recorded information on chronic health conditions or impairments using a screening questionnaire. It was possible for participants to report multiple impairments.

To record experience of violent crime and hate crime, respondents were asked if they had been a victim of crime in the previous 12 months before the survey date, and if so, were asked for their experiences.

In relation to household finances, poverty was measured in relation to the number of items that could not be afforded, and a score for each participant was calculated using that information.


Disabled people more likely than non-disabled peers to have been a victim of violent crime and hate crime in previous 12 months

Disabled people more likely than non-disabled peers to have been a victim of violent crime and hate crime in previous 12 months

What they found was that disabled people were more likely than their non-disabled peers to have been a victim of violent crime and hate crime in the previous 12 months.

The researchers adjusted these results to take account of differences between disabled people and their peers with regard to age, gender, and ethnicity. Having done this, disabled people were found to be 2.3 times more likely to have been a victim of violent crime and 2.6 times more likely to have been a victim of hate crime.

Interestingly, only 1 in 3 of disabled people who reported having experienced hate crime said the basis for this was their impairment or disability. 29% however reported ethnicity as the basis.

They found some differences in in the extent of increased risk of exposure to violent crime and hate crime. The risk of violent crime varied from an increase in the odds of exposure by a factor of 2.0 for people with hearing impairments to 6.3 for people with mental health or behavioural difficulties.

Using logistic regression to look at the association between age, gender, ethnicity, and poverty status and crime suggested some differences between disabled and non-disabled respondents.

The risk of exposure to crime reduced significantly with increasing in both groups, but they found that the steepness of the decline was greater for disabled respondents.

They found women were at significantly less risk of exposure to violent crime with the effect being stronger for non-disabled women. They found disabled women were at marginally greater risk of exposure to hate crime.

They found that white British respondents were at significantly reduced risk of exposure to hate crime, although this effect was significantly stronger for non-disabled respondents.

In relation to the association with poverty status, they found that the risk for both types of crime increased with increasing poverty for both groups, but that the steepness of the increase was significantly greater for disabled respondents.

Conclusion and Comment

This is a secondary analysis of exiting data, but results do suggest a significant increase in the likelihood that disabled adults have been exposed to violent crime and hate crime which is entirely in line with previous studies. Interestingly though, this study attempted to look at the impact of a range of variables including age, impairment type, gender and ethnicity.

The study was able to draw on a large and representative sample and benefit from the detailed questions asked in the UK Life Opportunities Survey on the specific nature of the impairments of the respondents. However, the Life opportunities Survey does not gather information specifically about the frequency at which respondents experienced crimes, or indeed the exact nature or impact of those crimes.

As with all self-report questionnaires, there are in-built biases, which are magnified the bigger the reporting period over which respondents are asked to remember. Interestingly though, previous studies have suggested that this bias tends to show under reporting of hate crime in self-reports, which could have made some of the effects larger than reported. The authors also pointed out that some people were excluded from the survey as a result of the level of their cognitive impairment.

They also draw attention to the fact that the survey is representative of general households, but that this means that people in larger forms of residential care would also have been excluded.

However, the researchers were able to comment on the increased risk of exposure for those with mental health problems or cognitive impairments and for those with disabilities living in more severe poverty. The authors draw attention to the importance of this finding for future research and for policy.

In relation to future research for example their findings suggest more emphasis the characteristics of households or community neighbourhoods that might be associated with moderating risk. In relation to policy it might suggest that actions aiming to reduce rates of exposure might need to be targeted at more deprived communities.

Increased risk of exposure for those with cognitive impairments and living in more severe poverty

Increased risk of exposure for those with cognitive impairments and living in more severe poverty


Developing an Evidence Base for Violent and Disablist Hate Crime in Britain: Findings From the Life Opportunities Survey, Eric Emerson & Alan Roulstone, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, published online, May 28, 2014  [abstract]

Prevalence and risk of violence against adults with disabilities: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, Hughes K et al., in The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 28 February 2012

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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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