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21 October 2020updated 04 Oct 2023 11:46am

Hate crime is at a record high — but is there more hate, or more people reporting hate?

Police in England and Wales recorded the highest ever number of hate crime incidents in the year up to March.

By Nicu Calcea

Police records of hate crimes have reached a record high, with some 105,090 incidents reported in England and Wales in the year to March 2020. The data – published by the Home Office on 13 October – represents an eight per cent increase on the previous year.

Racially motivated crimes were up by six per cent, with 72 per cent of all hate crimes (76,070) having a racial dimension. Hate crimes targeted against a person’s sexual orientation had risen at an even faster rate, by 19 per cent in a year. Hate crimes against transgender people and those with a disability rose 16 per cent and nine per cent respectively.

The only type of hate crime that saw a decrease was religious hate crime, with five per cent fewer incidents than during 2018-2019.

Despite the worrying figures, the Home Office claims they do not represent a real rise in crimes committed but “improvements in crime recording and a better identification of what constitutes a hate crime”.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for hate crime, deputy chief constable Mark Hamilton, agrees. “Whilst the report shows a rise in recorded crime, the long-term picture points to that being the result of more victims coming forward, and improved recording by the police,” he tells the New Statesman. “Over recent years, police have worked hard to improve our response to hate crime, including better recording of offences and more training for officers.”

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Reports from the NPCC or the Home Office made similar claims about rising hate crime figures in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2015.

But if improvements and methodological changes have been made every year since 2014, the NPCC has not released any details about what they are, and how they have influenced these figures.

Most experts do accept that changes in the way hate crimes are recorded are at least part of the explanation for the ever-rising numbers. “Hate crime reporting in some parts of the country has certainly improved,” says Dr Kate Ferguson, co-executive director and head of research and policy at Protection Approaches, a charity working to end identity-based violence.

“Our work funded by the mayor of London has seen us able to train frontline service providers and community leaders on what hate crime is, how to report it, and how to support victims. We’ve also been able to open third-party reporting sites, which means victims of hate crime can talk to trained and trusted experts in libraries, youth clubs, community organisations and places of worship.”

[See also: Crime in Northern Ireland falls by a third during lockdown]

But better recording presents a statistical problem: how do we know if the problem of hate crime is getting worse? If we constantly change the way we count – even if we constantly change it for the better – like-for-like comparisons become impossible.

For answers, we need to look at the a more consistent data source, such as the Crime Survey for England and Wales – a study that asks a representative sample of around 50,000 adults about the crimes they have experienced in the past year. The survey estimated there were around 307,000 hate crimes per year in the 2007/08 and 2008/09 combined surveys, but by the 2017/18 to 2019/20 survey this had fallen significantly, to 190,000 hate crime incidents per year.

However, this does not necessarily mean hate crime is falling. No survey is perfect and the Crime Survey, while consistent, might exclude those most likely to be victims of hate crime.

“In our work, we have seen that those who are often most vulnerable to hate crime such as newly arrived immigrants and refugees, and Roma, Gypsy or Traveller communities, are far less likely to participate in a survey such as this,” says Kate Ferguson. “This might be because of low levels of trust in police or local authorities, language barriers, trauma, or precisely because they have experienced high levels of hate crime and discrimination in the past.”

Government institutions may also be under-reporting hate crime against certain people, such as migrants and refugees, on the grounds that they are not protected groups.

The Crime Survey does confirm that British people from ethnic and religious minority backgrounds are disproportionately affected by hate crime. Some 0.9 per cent of all black adults and 1 per cent of people of Asian background in England and Wales said they were victims of racially-motivated hate crime during the past year – roughly one in 100. Just 0.1 per cent of people of white background (one in a thousand) were subjected to racially-motivated hate crime.

[See also: A third of UK residents are under local lockdowns – but has this changed their behaviour?]

Muslims account for 3,089 of all religiously-motivated hate crimes recorded by police – half of all incidents – despite making up just 5 per cent of the population in England and 1.5 per cent in Wales.

British Jews make up less than 0.5 per cent of the population in England and Wales, yet around 19 per cent of religious hate crime is targeted against them. The police recorded a decrease in levels of anti-Semitic hate crime from 2018/19 to 2019/20, but figures from the anti-Semitism watchdog Community Security Trust — which covers all of the UK — do not show a similar decrease.

Whether the official statistics have become more accurate or not, the reality is that hundreds of thousands of people in Britain continue to face prejudice and discrimination each year. Even worse, activists say this type of behaviour is becoming increasingly normalised.

“We have observed that in the last five years, hate crime, hate speech and other forms of verbal and physical attack motivated by how perpetrators conceptualise their victims’ identity have continued to be seen as more normal,” says Kate Ferguson.

“With so many risk factors of prejudice and discrimination as high as they currently are in the UK, we find it difficult to believe that hate crime is decreasing.”

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