New report shows that people with learning disabilities are at high risk of targeting for hate crime yet remain “invisible” in Government crime statistics

12th Sep 2018
Learning disabilities

People with learning disabilities are “invisible” in Government crime statistics even though there is widespread evidence of people being targeted in hate crime attacks according to a report published today.

The report, entitled A Life Without Fear?, argues that learning disability hate crime needs to be prioritised by government and better monitoring is required in order to develop more effective ways of addressing the issue.

Hate crimes targeted at people with learning disabilities included fraud, violence and taking over people’s property for the purposes of criminal activity such as drug dealing or prostitution – a practise known as cuckooing.

The Foundation for Learning Disabilities, part of the Mental Health Foundation, will present findings of this report at a Parliamentary event hosted by Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins. The Foundation will highlight the key recommendations of this report to Government, with the aim that these recommendations will be reflected in the review of Government’s Hate Crime action plan.

There are approximately 1.4 million people1 in Britain identified as having a learning disability and a recent national survey found that almost three in four people living with autism and learning disabilities had experienced hate crime2.

The effects of these crimes on the mental health of these victims can be very serious. An additional study showed that one in four of those targeted because of their learning disabilities were more likely to report feeling suicidal as a result of their victimisation3.

It is eleven years since Fiona and Frankie Pilkington took their own lives after a campaign of harassment by local teenagers who targeted Frankie’s learning disability. The incident was at the time hailed as a “Lawrence moment” for Learning Disability.

Christine Burke, Learning Disabilities and Equalities Lead from the Mental Health Foundation said:

“The results of our research in which we talked to many people with learning disabilities who experienced hate crime were shocking. We uncovered numerous reports of cases where people were deliberately targeted because they were seen as vulnerable and exploitable. This included people facing violence, threat and intimidation from a range of people including criminals, neighbours and even carers.

“We urgently need to tackle a situation in which services across the country remain patchy, un-coordinated, poorly evaluated and under-funded. Without specific Government data about hate crime affecting people with learning disabilities, this problem remains invisible.”

The report looks at examples of the different approaches to address learning disability hate crime to identify areas of good practise. Researchers identified and surveyed 159 schemes addressing learning disability hate crime across the UK - while the researchers found some examples of good practice, they also found many examples of poorly co-ordinated or sometimes non-existent service provision.

Also commenting on the report, Baroness Sheila Hollins, Professor of Psychiatry of Learning Disability said:

“This project has identified examples of good practice and I suggest it’s now time for this to become common practice. There should be zero tolerance towards learning disability and autism hate crime. With the launch of this report, we are asking Government to make this a priority and to deliver an action plan that includes the reports’ recommendations along with a commitment to make change happen.”

In response to this issue, the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities has recently founded the National Forum for Learning Disabilities and Autism Hate Crime. The objectives of this groups are: to keep a watchful brief in addressing the underreporting of learning disability hate crime, reduce the barriers for victims, ensuring reasonable adjustments are available, support the work of the #I’m with Sam Campaign  and  ensure that victims with a learning disability and autism are leaders in this campaign.


Notes to Editors:

  • Learning disability hate crime is any criminal offence that is perceived – by the victim or any other person – to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s learning disability or perceived learning disability. It can take many forms, including verbal abuse, physical abuse, threatening behaviour, bullying/teasing, online/phone abuse, damage to property/theft and can even lead to death.


Researchers spoke to 109 individuals with learning disabilities who shared their experiences of hate crime. Many people volunteered to share their personal experiences. 

Here are some examples: 

Focus Group Member 1: “I was just going back to my house, and somebody said, do you know what the time is? And I said I wasn’t sure, and then they spat in my face all of a sudden”

Focus Group Member 2: “I wouldn’t go out for ages because I was feeling low and stuff. My care worker just came in with a hammer, slammed my door open and went at my Xbox. She just smashed it in front of me.

Focus Group Member 3: “If anything goes wrong, even if anybody come here to start on me again, I’m completely alone here so I won’t be able to do anything.”

Focus Group Member 4: “I was at home and there was a knock at the door. It was late so I ignored it …. They kept knocking and I looked out of the spy hole and it was my neighbour. I opened the door and he came in and said he’d broken up with his girlfriend. He had to live with me now! I didn’t know what to do. He stayed for so long and he had his mates round every night doing drugs.”


  1. People with Learning Disabilities in England 2011
  2. Dimensions (2017) #I’m with Sam. Accessed from:
  3. University of Leicester (2014) The Leicester Hate Crime Project: Findings and Conclusions. Accessed from:

About The Mental Health Foundation:  

Since 1949, the Mental Health Foundation has been the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health. With prevention at the heart of what we do, we aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive.

Our mission is to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health.

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