Thursday, 11 August 2011

Q&A with author of first book on disability hate crime

SCAPEGOAT: Why we are failing disabled people

Katharine Quarmby

This first ever book on disability hate crime seeks answers and poses solutions to a problem revealed as having deep historical roots.

  1. Why did you write this book?
In 2007 I became aware of the case of Kevin Davies, a young man with epilepsy.  Held captive in a shed in the Forest of Dean he was tortured, burnt and starved before dying weighing just seven stone.

His three offenders were declared guilty - but not of murder or manslaughter - but wrongful imprisonment and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. They got nine to ten years each and disgusted I began investigating disability hate crime and it didn’t take long to discover similar cases. Some of these are now well known including that of Fiona Pilkington who that same year killed herself and her severely disabled daughter after years of torment by local youths.

  1. Why despite murdering 200,00 disabled citizens did those involved in the Nazis euthanasia campaign largely escape prosecution?
 Two reasons. Those killed were largely German citizens making prosecution under international law difficult but also there was sense amongst the British and American authorities that disabled people’s lives weren’t worth living and so what had happened to them wasn’t particularly wrong.

3. Does the rising number of convictions for disability hate crimes demonstrate they’re on the increase?

I think it’s more a case of better reporting but there is also some anecdotal evidence from MIND and other charities that current rhetoric around disability benefits and people being called scroungers and cheats is leading to increased hostility and attacks on disabled people.

 4. There are many disturbing, murderous cases in this book - it appears many members of the public prefer to ‘look the other way’ rather than acting to prevent them, why?

Three reasons - people generally don’t interfere when they see attacks. But many on disabled people occur where they live and physiotherapists, housing, social and support workers rarely, if ever, report them to the police, seeing them as safeguarding rather than criminal issues. Finally there is general hatred located in the belief that disabled people haven’t earned the equality they should be able to enjoy. Society condones these acts even if most people wouldn’t carry them out themselves.

 5. Why should serious case reviews relating to serious harm or death of a vulnerable adult be made compulsory for local authorities?

To discover what’s happening. At the moment they often don’t get carried out or the reports don’t get released and I feel they would show that crimes are not being reported to the police.

6. What might bring disabled and non-disabled people closer together?

I think we have de facto segregation that keeps us apart. Many non-disabled people are fearful of disabled people, believing that if they are friendly they will end up being sucked in to looking after them. This doesn’t have to be true,

We also need to see as many disabled people as possible in the community doing normal jobs. We need more disabled teachers and police officers, because if you see disabled people as contributing to society this undercuts the belief that disabled people have special perks that they don’t do anything to deserve.

  7. What’s wrong with Iain Duncan Smith’s comment that “work is good for you?

There’s nothing wrong with doing work. But the statement can be interpreted as meaning that if you’re not doing work then you’re not good, which is worrying as not everyone can work, or get paid for it.

Plenty of disabled people know how much work they can do and volunteer their services appropriately. Now they are going through assessments where non-medical practitioners are deciding how much work they think they are capable of doing. The differences of opinion can be quite stark.

There’s also anger that under the access to work initiative, that gives a disabled person extra support to help them start work, vitally needed workplace adaptations such as the installation of a hoist are not taking place. All of which means starting work is delayed for those who can go out to work.

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