Hate crime in England and Wales

Published: 17th Oct 2017

80,400 hate crimes were recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2016/17. That’s an increase of 29% on the previous year and the largest such increase since data started to be collected in 2011.

Hate crimes represent about 2% of crimes recorded by the police.

This reflects both a genuine rise in hate crimes and improvements to the way that the police record crime.

There was a “clear spike in hate crime” around the time of the EU referendum, according to the Home Office: both during the campaign and after the result was announced. Anecdotally, the Home Office also says offences related to xenophobia specifically increased around this time.

There was also a rise in the number of racially or religiously aggravated offences around the time of the referendum. These were 44% higher in the month following the referendum result compared to the same month in the previous year.

Since the referendum, there have also been spikes in recorded hate crimes following recent terror attacks in the UK including the Westminster Bridge attack and the Manchester Arena attack.

This article covers statistics in England and Wales, information on Scotland and Northern Ireland is published separately.

The definition of hate crimes is based on perception

A hate crime is defined as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic.”

There are five types of hate crime that are monitored by the Home Office: those based on the victim’s perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or because they were transgender.  The vast majority of these - almost 80% - involve race.

So these figures don’t cover hate crimes that fall outside of these areas – like those based on age, gender, or terrorist incidents that are seen to be targeted against general values.

Anyone can be the victim of a hate crime, and a victim doesn’t have to actually be a member of the targeted group. For example, someone who is targeted because they’re wrongly assumed to be gay would still be a victim of a hate crime.

Not all hate crimes are separate offences

The police can flag any offence as being motivated by one of the types of hate monitored by the Home Office. This is what makes up the 80,400 recorded hate crimes in 2016/17.

As well as this, some crimes have a specific racially or religiously motivated element which are treated as separate offences. These produce a different set of figures just for these offences.

The step before something is recorded as a crime is a ‘hate incident’. All reports to the police are recorded as ‘incidents’, though they’re not necessarily crimes. The police encourage people to report incidents, even if no law has been broken, to help them prevent future crimes.

Hate crimes often spike after major national or global events – although it’s not always entirely genuine

Major national and global events are sometimes followed by a spike in recorded hate crimes.

There may be several reasons for this, and we don’t know how important each one is in a specific case.

In the case of the EU referendum in 2016, there are three main factors in play:

Firstly, the actual number of hate crimes will have increased.

Secondly, people will have been more aware of possible motivations and more likely to report them to the police.

Thirdly, the police are known to have improved the way they record crimes in recent years. This means that some rises in recent years aren’t completely genuine – they happen because more crimes are being recorded, not because more are taking place.

Relatively few hate crime offences result in prosecution

One in six hate crime offences result in a suspect being charged or a witness being summonsed to appear in court.

About 14,500 hate crime prosecutions took place in 2016/17. That’s actually down 7% compared to the previous year. Part of this is due to the number of cases being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the Home Office falling in the year to 2015/16.

That said, hate crimes convictions are leading to harsher sentences. When people are convicted of hate crimes the CPS can apply for what’s called an ‘uplift’ to increase the sentence. In 2016/17, more than half of hate crimes successfully prosecuted by the CPS involved an uplift.

There’s a limit to how much the police figures can tell us

Comparing crime surveys with police reports also suggests that there’s a gap between the number of hate crimes that people experience and the number that get reported to the police.

An alternative of crime is the Crime Survey for England and Wales. It isn’t perfect but it does record crimes people didn’t report to the police. Unfortunately, the most recent analysis of hate crimes we have using these figures is for 2012 to 2015.

Between 2012 and 2015 there were around 222,000 hate crime incidents a year. That’s about 3% of all crime reported in the survey. 0.4% of adults were a victim of any hate crime between 2011 and 2015.

The survey found that the number of incidents decreased by 28% compared to 2007 to 2009 figures, at a similar rate to the overall fall in crime. The share of adults who experienced a hate crime also fell from 0.6% to 0.4%.

48% of these hate crime incidents were reported to the police.


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