Last week was National Hate Crime Awareness Week (NHCAW). It coincided with the Home Office releasing data that confirmed a striking rise in reported hate incidents in the UK over the last year. The data highlights how much remains to be done. While NHCAW prompted us to think of ways that we can contribute, as organisations and ordinary people, the continued rise in reported hate incidents also suggests that hate won’t simply disappear in a “hostile environment.”
By JEN WILTON and FABIEN CANTE
The Home Office hate crime statistics released on Tuesday last week surprised very few people. Instead, the data confirmed what many reports and personal stories had already documented over the past months: a steady rise in the number of aggressions linked to racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other forms of intolerance.
In the last year, reports of hate incidents to the police have increased by 29%, reaching a total of 80,393 over the 2016/2017 period. Hate crimes can be defined as crimes motivated by prejudice toward any aspect of a person’s identity, including religion, sexual orientation or disability. Nationally, the vast majority of hate incidents reported were racially motivated, a situation confirmed by data recorded in all 44 police forces in the UK.
Home Office statistics strongly suggest that the Brexit referendum fuelled a durable rise in hate crime. Racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by the police in July 2016 were 44% higher than in July 2015. This sad record was later topped, however: more than 6000 hate incidents were reported in June this year, likely following the London Bridge terrorist attack.
Raising Awareness of Authorities – and Bystanders
What to do in the face of a deepening hate problem? NHCAW helped draw attention to the issue in every part of the UK, with different localities taking stock of the numbers – and pledging action. In London, TFL and the Metropolitan Police joined forces in a campaign against anti-Muslim hate crime; in Rotherham, community groups have obtained funding and training to support hate crime victims; while Manchester’s Gay Village has created a new, all-night “haven” space for party-goers who might experience hate crime or harassment.
During a conference organised by iStreetWatch on October 18, 30 councils from the North West, together with academics, charities, housing associations and campaign groups, pooled their experiences of addressing hate crime and brainstormed for the future. Everyone involved recognised the need to provide better support for victims, but also the need to tackle the sources of hate crime. Programmes in schools and aimed at young people were identified as a priority.
iStreetWatch also raised awareness about the role of bystanders in hate crimes by publishing a 5-step guide to bystander intervention. During the Lancaster conference, Professor of Law Paul Iganski drew on his research to show that the hurt felt by hate crime could often be magnified by bystanders’ inaction. One person Iganski interviewed in Belfast said that bystanders’ lack of help or visible concern actually hurt more than the hate crime itself. Iganski concluded that “civil courage” should be more widely learned and taught, so that more people might be equipped with the skills needed to intervene in the case of abuse.
No Place for Hate – But What about Hostility?
The Guardian quoted Home Secretary Amber Rudd saying that there was “absolutely no place” for hate crimes in Britain, and claiming that the government is taking action to tackle the issue. Yet it is widely recognised that hate crimes can be fuelled by the government’s own rhetoric, carried in policies and media interventions that together deliberately foster a “hostile environment” toward migrants and other protected groups. Policies such as Right to Rent or eligibility checks for NHS services have already been flagged as potential causes of large-scale racial profiling and discrimination.
Improved avenues for reporting abuse, more support for victims, more prevention programmes in schools, and tougher sanctions for hate crimes are all positive steps. But if the government is serious about tackling hate crime, it might do well to improve its own commitment to equality and inclusion.