Hate crime policy: a change or business as usual?
One immediate outcome of the EU referendum result was a significant increase in incidents of hate crime, principally racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate incidents. The police state around 6,200 such incidents in England and Wales were reported to them in the month of July, over twice last year’s July figure. Even celebrities like the BBC’s Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain have said they have been subjected to racial abuse.
There has been much speculation over the cause of this spike in hate crime and hate speech. Was it closet racists who thought the referendum result legitimised their views and made it acceptable to tell those they considered ‘foreign’ to ‘go home’? Was it the result of the political campaigning around the referendum and the anti-migrant/anti-free movement of labour stance taken by the campaigning groups? Was it pent up frustration from years of austerity measures that erupted into some people blaming anyone who appeared to come from another country, a distinction based on skin colour, looks or language spoken? Probably a mixture of all these and more causes.
What is important is what is being done to stem the increase in hate crime. The police in the days following the referendum results were detailing cases and statistics via the news media and stating that they would investigate all incidents of hate. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe warned there would be a “zero tolerance” approach by police to xenophobic attacks. The London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, told Londoners to “stand guard” against hate crime following the UK’s decision to leave the EU. And the then Prime Minister David Cameron said on 29 June that the government would publish a new action plan on tackling hate crime. He said that this plan “Would take new steps to boost reporting of hate crime and supporting victims, new Crown Prosecution Service guidance to prosecutors on racially aggravated crime, a new fund for protective security measures at potentially vulnerable institutions and additional funding to community organisations so that they can tackle hate crime.”
On 12 July the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called upon the government to conduct a full scale review of its hate crime strategy. In their submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, that met to examine the UK in early August, they urged the government to review the operation and effectiveness of sentencing for hate crimes, provide stronger evidence to prove their hate crime strategies are working, and work with criminal justice agencies to understand what drives perpetrators to commit hate crime and to use the evidence to develop new preventative measures. The NGO Shadow Report to the UN Committee led by Runnymede Trust and drafted before the referendum (to which UKREN contributed and endorsed) recommended that the government formulates a strategy and considers legislation to combat growing online hate crime, amongst other recommendations to reduce race discrimination and hate in the UK.
Race equality NGOs applied pressure on the government to introduce a new hate crime strategy urgently. A statement signed by many anti-racism NGOs including UKREN was sent to the government by Operation Black Vote to call for a comprehensive strategy.
On 26 July the government published its hate crime plan, a revision of the last 2012 one. This outlines actions the government will take between 2016 - 2020 to:
• prevent and respond to hate crime
• increase reporting of hate crime incidents
• improve support for victims
• build an understanding of hate crime.
Sounds good. But is it more spin than substance? A clue may be in the title. It is a plan and not a strategy. It was probably already developed before the spike in hate crime post referendum, although the introductory pages refer to the referendum and the rise in hate crime. It does have some worthy elements, for example the fund to improve security at places of worship and the highlighting of low reporting of hate crime by specific groups such as Gypsies,.Travellers and Roma while encouraging NGOs to establish third party reporting mechanisms with/for these communities. But a coherent strategy that has had input through consultation with NGOs and victims of hate crime it is not. The Coalition Of Race Equality organisations sharply criticised the plan for not being a strategic framework that analysed the root causes of racism and xenophobia, that didn’t recognise the rise in racist incidents, that didn’t appear to use or publish data on the ethnicity of perpetrators and victims of hate crime, and had not been the subject of consultation. Much of what the EHRC called for a few weeks earlier.
A draft plan published in haste as a reaction to the spike in hate crime? A plan published to be seen to be doing something? Or a realistic focus on some key areas of hate? Although many NGOs have criticised the plan for not having stronger measures to deal with hate crime, many NGOs have welcomed the plan and will work with the government, other NGOs and communities to reduce the high level of hate crime incidents.
Alan Anstead, Coordinator, UKREN
This post first appeared on Migrants' Rights Network site.