My invisible illness became visible when I started using my walking stick and I still might not “look sick” but there’s something there that makes people stop and think. To ask why I use it, to move out of my way in the street, open doors and help me carry things. I’ve found people to be really friendly since I became visible, which isn’t the case for everyone. Is this down to my attitude towards it, or the people I meet? I’m not too sure, all I know is I get lots of smiles, offers of help and sort of special treatment when people can see that I’m visibly struggling with things. Now I’m not sure how I feel about this, coming from a highly independent woman’s viewpoint, in theory I want to be treated equally, to have the same opportunities and support because of me rather than because people feel either sorry for me, or that they have to offer help to be polite, but I also a[ppreciate that doing everything for myself is not realistic anymore, and I need to ask for help on occasion. Everyone does, I’m just pretty stubborn about it, but at the minute I’m appreciating the assistance and friendly attitudes and relishing any special treatment I get.
A recent article http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/disability-hate-crime-convictions-surge-by-40-per-cent-a7232576.html states that disability hate crime reports and prosecutions have increased 40% since last year, and disabled children are twice as likely to be victims of crime than non disabled children. The problem I find with this report is that the figures are so small! We’re talking about hundreds of crimes, not thousands as I expected.
According to the disabled living foundation there are over 10 million disabled people in the U.K. Half of them are over pension age and under 1 million are children. (http://www.dlf.org.uk/content/key-facts) So why are there only hundreds of prosecutions from an estimated 200 incidents a day and 9 in 10 kids with learning difficulties being bullied in schools?
Are we not able to recognise a hate crime? do we not report them? do we think the police won’t do anything? Or is it that we feel it won’t make any difference even if we do report it and the case is prosecuted?
I think it’s a mixture of all of those things.
A hate crime is if you receive verbal, physical, online or any other form of abuse because you belong to a group that falls amongst the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010
- Sexual orientation
- Gender reassignment
- Religion or belief
If someone treats you negatively because of one of these characteristics then you can report it to the police as a hate crime. I heard of someone with an invisible illness being abused for using a disabled parking space, with a valid blue badge. Is this a hate crime? It seems like a minor thing, being shouted at for using a disabled parking space, but is it a small thing> It’s verbal abuse because of a disability so yes I’d classify it as a hate crime. I’d have to check with the police, but I’d say yes, and no it isn’t a small thing for the person who ha gone through the process of accepting they need a blue badge, applying for one and then using it as intended. Being abused for going about your daily life is a huge thing and it isn’t right! It’s disgusting behaviour that should be stopped!
Why is this so prevalent in our society? I’m inclined to drop it at the feet of the media who focus on the negative stories of the minority of people who fake illness to get benefits, buy blue badges and want what they see as the positives of being ill without having the actual illness to deal with! Obviously this is a far more interesting story than someone who’s actually struggling to live with a disibility and therefore doesn’t get as much attention from the media. (And really, what positives are there of having a chronic illness? I’d give back my benefits, blue badge and free tunnel trips in an instance to have my health at a level where I didn’t actually need these things!)
The last reported figures https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/528719/fraud-and-error-prelim-estimates-2015-16.pdf show ESA (UK unemployment sickness benefit) fraud to be up from 1.4% to 1.7% of the total expenditure. This is tiny! It’s even tiny compared to the underpayments of ESA from 2% to 2.3%, which is people not getting the correct benefits! The report also states that abroad fraud increased dramatically, but the main problem is people not declaring earnings or savings. This is dreadful, and I’m totally against benefit fraud as they’re there as a safety net in our society to help when you most need it, we’re lucky to have them (I don’t think the system is right, or works effectively, but that’s a whole other conversation) but it’s certainly not the huge problem that it’s made out to be in the media.
So is this where the attitudes come from, or is it just part of our culture? We humans like things to be simple, we naturally stereotype and make assumptions about each other to categorise new people as quickly as we can. We like to make our world easier to understand and so this leads to misconceptions and prejudices. There are positive stereotypes however negative ones are more common. I found an interesting article about disability stereotypes http://www.disabilitymuseum.org/dhm/edu/essay.html?id=24 which states that disabled people are seen as being either lesser than, or inspirational. It’s a stereotype that simplifies the individuality of each of us in the same way that racial, religious and all other stereotypes do. I’m not an inspiration just for living my life and I’m not less than because of my health problems. Having a (mostly) invisible disability obviously makes it more challenging for people to stereotype and judge me (positively and negatively) but shouldn’t people just not abuse and harass others? Is it just that simple? It shouldn’t matter about the 7 protected characteristics and I shouldn’t need extra protections just for being who I am.
Stereotypes are dangerous to us all and those who act on negative ones need to have a look at themselves and at the very least have a conversation with a member of the group of society that they’re judging, instead of making assumptions and potentially falling foul of hate crime laws! So instead of prejudging each other, why not accept each other’s differences? Thats why I like talking about my disabilities and raising awareness for invisible illnesses because any single person that I can open up to the fact that there isn’t a “disabled look” and just because someone “doesnt look sick” it doesn’t mean that they aren’t fighting an internal battle everyday is a win for me.
So get talking, raise awareness. Stop hate crimes!
What would you class as a disability hate crime?