Hate crimes against disabled people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland went up by 33% in 2011, figures have shown.
More than 2,000 crimes took place where the offence was motivated by hostility towards a person’s disability, up a third from figures published in 2010.
The figures, published by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) are stark in the wake of the positive attitudes generated by the Paralympic Games.
Some people have tweeted that the increase in hate crimes may be linked by cuts to disability benefits. Karen Buck, Labour MP for Westminister, wrote:
The Department of Work and Pensions has contracted a French company Atos to reassess the 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit and employment support allowance (ESA) by 2014,
Activists insist their clampdown on benefits claimants is simply a money-saving exercise and that many disabled people are having their benefits cut wrongfully on the basis of the Atos test.
Many campaigners have argued that cuts are creating a negative attitude towards disabled people, casting them as "benefit scroungers."
Sue Marsh, who suffers from severe Crohn's disease and writes the blog 'Diary of A Benefit Scrounger' has defended the right of disability benefits, insisting that many Paralympic athletes wouldn't have got where they are today without government support.
United Response, a charity that supports people with disabilities, told Huffington Post UK the statistics were a "shocking" example of the level of misunderstanding around disability.
"They illustrate the sad reality that many people with learning disabilities face harassment and bullying in public" they added.
The charity explained how their busy drop-in centres suddenly empty around 3pm every day.
"They all want to get home before school children start to use the buses, as many are afraid of being bullied and taunted.
"This shows why it’s more important that ever before for organisations such as our own to work with disabled people and the wider public to challenge the misconceptions around what living with a disability means.
"We must all do our bit and speak out against bullying, when we see it. It would be a truly great Paralympic legacy to see an end to all disability hate crime.”
Police believe the rise in hate crimes may be because more victims of disabled hate crime are reporting the crimes.
ACPO lead on hate crime, Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris, said:
“While we would obviously want to see reductions in the incidence of all hate crime, we know that disability hate crimes have been significantly under-reported in the past.
"We remain committed to building confidence in and improving our recording practices, so that more victims get the service they deserve.”
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, said:
“This increase in recorded disability hate crime is alarming. But, we hope that it comes from greater awareness amongst disabled people of disability hate crime and better reporting of these crimes rather than an increase in the numbers of incidents themselves.
“We still need to better understand why disabled people are being targeted in the first place and changing attitudes can play a big role here.
“But we also need to build disabled people’s confidence in the justice system.
“Crucially we need to ensure that police forces and the CPS are doing all they can to support disabled people who do take the step to report crimes right through the process, from initial reporting to prosecution where applicable.
“Many disabled people are still too reluctant to report hate crimes and anti-social behaviour, and we need to do more to fill them with confidence that crimes against them will be taken seriously.”
ACPO’s report measures five kinds of hate crimes. As well as hate crimes against disabled people, it measures those motivated by racism, hatred of a religious belief or sexual orientation, or where the victim was perceived to be transgender.
All other types of hate crime decreased compared with the year before. Just over 44,500 hate crimes took place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2011, compared with 48,127 crimes reported in 2010, a decrease of 3,600. Most of the hate crimes reported were motivated by race.
According to The Guardian’s interactive map of Home Office data, the counties which reported the most hate crime in England and Wales were Leicestershire and Greater Manchester, of which racially motivated hate crime was the highest.
North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire had the lowest reported incidents of hate crime.
Assistant Chief Constable Harris added:
“Hate crimes cause a great deal of fear among victims and communities. We are determined to reduce the harm caused by hate crime and as a service, we have listened to victims’ groups who have told us that publishing this data will improve confidence in the police and the wider criminal justice system.