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Disability hate crimes soar in South Yorkshire

A data request from Now Then shows a 77% increase in reports of disability hate crime to South Yorkshire Police over the last four years.

Division street
Rachel Rae Photography

Hate crimes against disabled people have seen a vast increase over the last four years, according to a Freedom of Information request sent by Now Then to South Yorkshire Police. Whereas 249 disability hate crimes were reported in 2018, this rose to 315 in 2019, 339 in 2020 and 441 in 2021.

Speaking of the prevalence of disability hate crime, Kathryn Littlewood from Sheffield Voices at Disability Sheffield told Now Then:

I can only speak for the group I work with, which is people with a learning disability and autism, but we are definitely seeing a rise in people being targeted with scams and loan sharks. We believe that this is because of the economic circumstances people are finding themselves in and people who we work with are seen as ‘easy prey’ for scammers and sharks.

People are also reporting that there is a rise in hate towards them on social media.

The Safe Places project is run by Sheffield City Council and Heeley City Farm, with the aim of supporting vulnerable people to feel safe when they are out and about in Sheffield. If someone needs help, for example they are lost, ill or frightened, then they can go to a pre-approved Safe Place (all highlighted on the Safe Places website and app) to get help.

Sheffield Safe Places

Everywhere that is an approved Safe Place receives training. Chloe Wilks, Safe Places Co-ordinator, told Now Then:

We aim to give a toolkit, so people feel more confident to support anyone that feels vulnerable in the community. In addition to hate crime reporting and third-party reporting centres, we train Safe Places about mate crime and how to spot early warning signs of hate crime.

Safe Places is co-run with its members, who are all disabled or have learning disabilities or mental health needs.

Whilst working with our members and communities across Sheffield, we often find that the people who use Safe Places are used to the public discriminating against them and singling them out as a result of their disability or difficulties.

The bottom line is hate crime is massively underreported within the disabled community because they are so used to it.

One of our members, who has cerebral palsy, says ‘’I just have to let it go over my head and ignore it because I can’t live my life being upset and stressed all the time.‘

Chloe Wilks

Unfortunately, it happens so much that many people just don’t report as a result of nothing changing. The issue is education. If the public aren’t educated about disabilities, then the mistreatment and hate crime towards people who have additional needs may not change.

Chloe Wilks

Reporting disability hate crime

Chloe Wilks is keen to encourage victims of disability hate crime to report their experiences to the police, and everywhere that is a designated Safe Place is trained to help identify hate crimes and encourage reporting:

As part of Safe Places training, we educate our Safe Places on exactly what a hate crime is and the best way to report it. Many people are very apprehensive reporting because they don’t have time or understand the importance of reporting because they think they will get into trouble or have to go to court and get overly involved.

This is understandably stressful, but reporting can be completely confidential and be done online in less than 5 minutes.

Reporting a hate crime is a paramount way of ensuring the police and authorities know what is happening around the city. Without people reporting hate crime the police simply can’t target the right areas and help where is most needed.

Safe Places aims to help people understand the importance and need to report hate crime. We work with the police to regularly update them, advocate for our members passing on information, experiences, thoughts, and emotions so the police can better understand this close-knit community in Sheffield.

Kathryn Littlewood’s service, Sheffield Voices, also offers help and support with reporting disability hate crime:

At this time there is no official disability reporting centre in Sheffield. However, if someone has a learning disability or autism, they can reach out to Sheffield Voices and we will try our best to support people to report the crime.

You can also report hate crime online at

South Yorkshire Police told Now Then: “Hate crime offences have been shown to be on the rise, however we believe people’s confidence in reporting offences to us to be a factor in this.

“With regards to disability crime, it is both saddening and concerning there are still people in society who are committing hate crimes of this type.

“The rise in reporting we are seeing is down to a number of factors including better education and previous under-reporting of hate crime. We have worked with our partners to ensure more people have the confidence and awareness to come forward and report this type of crime to us. Hate crime incidents cover a broad range of offending and can occur in everyday, normal situations.

“At South Yorkshire Police we have provided training for our call handlers and crime recorders so that they are better at recognising when a hate crime has taken place and more of these offences are now being recorded correctly which may have been missed previously.

“We continue to work hard to engage with local communities to encourage them to report any incidents of hate crime and to work towards tackling these issues. Working alongside partners, a number of third-party referral centres have been set up to take reports of hate crimes across South Yorkshire so we can encourage more people to report hate crimes in their communities and we can continue the conversation around hate crime and how to prevent it. We also have four Hate Crime Co-ordinators working to tackle these issues who are actively involved in collaborating with partner agencies to create effective joined-up working.

“We want to reassure people that all forms of hate crime – not just those against people with a disability - have no place here in South Yorkshire, and any complaint made to us will be taken extremely seriously and treated with the utmost respect. We would encourage anyone who is experiencing verbal abuse, harassment, intimidation or violence to report it to us so that we can tackle it effectively.”

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