Patrick Olajide, Analyst
Tuesday 19 July 2022
What is the true picture of hate crime? By hate crime, we mean offences motivated by hostility based on race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity.
In England and Wales, there are two contrasting sets of figures. An official survey of people’s experiences of offending, the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), suggests hate crime has been in steep decline for well over a decade. But over a similar period, the number of hate crimes recorded by the 43 police forces has nearly trebled. The Home Office attributes much of that increase to greater awareness and reporting of hate crimes, and improvements in the way police record them.
This short report explores the figures in more detail and considers other possible reasons for the rise. We analysed two publicly available datasets  about hate crime and examined other relevant statistics. Interviews were conducted with five experts in crime and justice policy, academia, hate crime investigations, prevention and victim support services.
The Crime Survey
The Crime Survey for England and Wales is compiled and published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). It used to be known as the British Crime Survey and has produced estimates of crime since 1982 by asking a sample of householders about whether or not they have been a victim during the previous year . The sample has varied from around 35,000 to 45,000 people aged 16 and over, with a separate survey of ten to 15-year-olds introduced in 2010.
One key advantage of the CSEW is that its figures are unaffected by changes in the willingness of people to report crimes and how police record them - it includes offences that have not been reported to police as well as those that have been - so it can provide an accurate measure of long-term trends. Overall, 47% of hate crime incidents in the CSEW came to the attention of police. Reporting rates for hate crimes have been consistently higher than for other offences in the CSEW .
But the CSEW is not perfect. The size of the sample means that the number of hate crime incidents and victims is not large enough to give a reliable estimate for one year, so two or three years’ data are combined to give a figure.
One expert we spoke to also said the survey misses out people who are poor, those with health problems and young people.
“The crime survey goes to 45,000 households. So it doesn't include people who don't live in a household. So it wouldn't include homeless people, tourists, people in a mental health institution, they wouldn't be caught. And it also doesn't include people under 16”
- Hate crime policy lead.
Nevertheless, the CSEW provides a valuable insight into longer-term trends - and they indicate that hate crime in England and Wales has fallen. The most recent estimate was published for 2019-2020 . It suggests there was a 38% decline in the number of hate crime incidents over a 13-year period from 307,000 per year (combining data from the 2007/08 and 2008/09 surveys) to 190,000 per year (combining data from 2017/18 to 2019/20 surveys).
That raises the question as to whether hate crime has really gone down - because the police figures tell a very different story.
Police recorded crime
In 2021, there were 114,958 police-recorded hate crime offences in England and Wales. That is an increase of over 70,000 recorded offences across an eight-year period (2013-2021), and a 99% increase since 2015. Figures from Greater Manchester Police were excluded due to technical issues in the way the force recorded crimes.
Police recorded hate crime offences (excluding GMP) 
For the first four years, police-recorded hate crimes went up at an increasing rate each year, peaking between 2016-17 at 30%. Since then the rate of increase has slowed.
The yearly rate of change in recorded hate crime offences in England and Wales (excluding GMP)
On average, between 2011/12 and 2020/21, police-recorded hate crime offences increased by over 400%. Offences based on hostility to transgender people showed the largest rise, 794%. By comparison, race hate crimes rose by 156%.
The percentage increase in hate crime between 2011/12 and 2020/21, by category (*including GMP)
The larger percentage increase in transgender hate crime compared to other categories is probably explained by the relatively low number of such offences in 2011/12: there were just 313. On the other hand, race hate crimes saw the lowest percentage increase but the highest numerical rise: 35,944 to 92,052 in 2020/21. As this graph illustrates, race hate makes up the majority of hate crimes and transgender hate makes up the smallest proportion.
Police-recorded hate crime in England and Wales, by category, 2020/21
Public order offences make up 52% of all hate crime offending, even though they account for only 10% of all recorded crimes. Stalking and harassment make up the largest proportion of hate crimes in two categories - transgender and disability, as this chart shows.
Police-recorded hate crimes in England and Wales, by offence type for each category, 2020/21
There is significant variation in the type and severity of hate crime offences reported to the police, ranging from verbal insults to grievous bodily harm. Experts explained that where hate crimes were reported, the evidence had to be fairly clear-cut, as intimating an offence was not enough.
“There was a trans woman who was a teacher named Lucy Meadows, who was bullied in the media because they decided that she couldn't be a primary school teacher because she was trans. And they hounded her to the point where she committed suicide, and they probably didn't commit a criminal offence”
- Hate crime policy lead.
A number of experts pointed to neighbourhood disputes as a key area for hate crime offending, particularly racism and homophobia, with individuals being targeted or feeling they were being targeted because of a protected characteristic. There was a higher proportion of criminal damage and arson for religious hate than for other hate offences, possibly because more incidents occurred in places of worship.
Explanations for the rise
The experts we spoke to suggested three potential reasons for the stark increase in the number of recorded hate crime offences:
Better police recording practices
More hate crimes are being reported
Changes in society
Better police recording practices
Since 2014, police forces in England and Wales have made significant improvements in how they identify what constitutes a hate crime, and how they record crime overall. New rules from the Home Office brought in a uniform standard on how offences were counted across all police forces, increasing the number of crimes forces record .
Reports by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMIC) in 2012 and the Public Administration Select Committee in 2013, also played a role in highlighting the problems. HMIC’s work, including a rolling programme of inspections of crime recording practices, helped drive up the proportion of crimes reported by people that are recorded by police - the crime recording ratio.
Between 1981 and 1999, the police recorded between five and six crimes for every ten that the CSEW found had been reported to them by the public. There are now more than 12 crimes recorded by the police for every ten reported to the CSEW. This includes third-party reported offences, where an offence has been reported to the police, but the victim has not been identified. An expert we consulted for our research commented on the scale of improvement in police recording practices:
“We went effectively from around about one in six hate crimes that people experienced, according to the Survey, being recorded by the police to about one in two. So that closing of the gap was huge” - Hate crime policy lead.
“It also involves massive contributions from civil society, from victims having the confidence to demand their rights and sort of it being sold as a ‘rights thing’, rather than we were doing them a favour” - Hate crime policy lead.
In spite of the improvements, further changes to Home Office crime recording rules, police administrative practices and operational decisions could lead the number of recorded offences to “fluctuate even without ‘real’ fluctuations in crime figures” .
More hate crimes are being reported
The increase in police-recorded hate crime over the last decade continued throughout 2020-21, even though public interaction was limited due to travel, social distancing and lockdown measures put in place because of the coronavirus.
One explanation for this, suggested by experts, was a generational gap. Younger people, it is said, are less accepting of discrimination and more willing to report hate crime, with protest movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo giving the public greater impetus to report. The flip side is that the advancement of the rights of protected groups and the protest movements linked to them may have sparked a backlash from far-right extremists and hate groups, triggering offences both offline and online. Experts described how political divisions had increased the intensity and exposure of hateful views:
“I think it largely comes around the huge division in politics after the referendum and around the referendum, so the political narrative of particularly racism is so much more intense, because, for so many people, that decision on membership of Europe was about migration and ethnicity. But also this kind of ‘war on woke’, which has overtaken politics in the last few years means…trans people are constantly hearing negative things about their identity” - Hate crime policy lead.
“So there's two points, one was the kind of politics and the divide, and the other one is the ubiquitous nature of online abuse. So people are exposed to kind of hostility towards their characteristic in ways that were never done before” - Hate crime policy lead.
The number of people openly identifying as Transgender or LGBTQIA+ over the last decade may also have led to a rise in reporting hate crimes. In 2020, the ONS estimated that 3.1% of the UK population (aged 16 and over) identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual, almost double the proportion in 2014. Figures on the number identifying as trans are less clear, though Stonewall puts it at about 1% of the UK population .
Labelling certain offences as ‘hate crime’ may also affect reporting, with some offences, such as those motivated by hostility to someone’s age or gender, currently excluded. One expert commented on the impact of political and public discourse in determining which identities were deemed worthy of protection and respect, and which were not, and how that may contribute to offences towards select groups.
“There is undoubtedly a correlation, whether it's causal, or whether it's just people, whether it's a sort of two paths, sort of having to go in the same direction. [...] We see that kind of hate [...] will mirror hate speech trends so that they'll both go up in the same path they’ll both go down together. And you can't say that one causes the other, but they’re both reacting to the same motion in society.” - Hate crime policy lead.
Changes in society
Experts said the pandemic had increased the number of people exposed to hateful content. Due to lockdown restrictions, online activity increased, as members of the public turned to the internet for work, leisure and to adjust to new ways of living:
“I do feel that the online space is having an increasing impact on hate crime happening offline, and might be a key factor in the rise in hate crime” - Project worker at a leading anti-hate crime organisation.
“The internet didn't change things massively. Social media changed things massively” - Hate crime policy lead.
Overall, content among online far-right networks grew considerably during the pandemic and reached more mainstream audiences. Experts described how that was made worse by a period of heightened isolation, anxiety, online consumption of social media and a growing distrust of authority.
“The crossover between anti-vax/anti-lockdown movements and far-right, hateful groups is also notable. The issue of this content being shown to a wider audience has also coincided with an increased distrust in authority/'experts' making it harder to dispel misinformation online” - Project worker at leading anti-hate crime organisation.
As a result, there were more individuals online who could be exposed to hateful content, conspiracy theories and misinformation in a period where their vulnerability to such content was higher. The move into the mainstream of far-right conspiracies such as 'Q-Anon' in the United States serves as an example:
“The far right ideology thing is a real risk. [...] I think the UK is more subject to English supremacy than it is white supremacists, if that makes sense. [...] When the insurrection happened on the sixth of January, I kind of was surprised how little impact it had on the UK far right, because they didn't identify with Americans, they saw themselves as superior to the Americans. So whereas American far right will get behind the kind of neo-Nazi far right, that there is a kind of globalisation to their kind of movement that there isn't to some of ours” - Hate crime policy lead.
Divisive language from political leaders and widening political divides have raised challenges for those trying to counter the messages and stop the spread of hate views online, with many individuals unable or unwilling to accept any information which challenges hateful views.
“Most kinds of hatred and bigotry is based on a lie. So the lie that Jewish people rule the world, the lie that black people, black men are more violent [...] the lie that gay people are paedophiles. And the current lie that’s sort of very prevalent is that trans women in particular, are predatory sex offenders. And obviously, that's deeply insulting to somebody who is trans.” - Hate crime policy lead.
Experts described individuals online as being resistant to challenge, especially if the information challenging their viewpoint came from a left-wing or academic source or was part of the mainstream media. Practitioners described hate crimes committed via the internet as “nigh impossible” to prosecute with some offences committed internationally, anonymously or in high volumes.
Overall, neither police-recorded data nor the Crime Survey for England and Wales provides a complete picture of the state of hate crime. Both sets of figures have their advantages but there is a striking discrepancy between them: the CSEW says hate offences are down; the police statistics show an increase.
Some of the rise is undoubtedly due to greater reporting and improved recording methods. But practitioners also believe there has been a real increase in the number of violent hate crimes and say there is a perception that things are worse:
“So people are statistically less likely to be victims of hate crime, according to that [...] the data will tell you that people are less likely, but obviously recorded hate crime is going up massively. And the ability to understand that and to kind of explain that is key because you don't want people to think that it's worse. However, when I go to any community group, they will laugh at me when I tell them that and they will say that's nonsense, I am so much more likely to suffer racism or homophobia or whatever” - Hate crime policy lead.
The picture is complicated by inconsistencies in reporting and recording practices across police force areas and devolved nations. These are influenced by unpredictable variables, such as human error and IT systems, and differences in the type of offences monitored by different police forces.
The internet is also a factor. The growth of online spaces has opened up a gateway for spreading discriminatory propaganda and radicalising otherwise mainstream audiences. The effect of counter-messaging work is limited due to a heightened distrust of sources seen as ‘elitist’ while online hate crimes remain difficult to prosecute with officers having limited ability to deal with them.
But most hate offences dealt with by police are still public order offences, initiated within communities, sometimes by neighbours. That raises important questions for the police, criminal justice agencies, victim support services and other practitioners. How do they best tackle it and safeguard vulnerable communities?
 Kantar Public. (2015). Crime Survey for England & Wales. https://www.crimesurvey.co.uk/en/HomeReadMore.html
 Estimates from the survey were last published in ‘Hate Crime, England and Wales, 2019 to 2020’. The next publication of figures from the CSEW would have been due in 2023, but this may be delayed because the face-to-face survey was suspended due to public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
 Adapted from House of Commons Library research briefing.
Zayed, Y., & Allen, G. (2021, November). Hate Crime Statistics. House of Commons Library.
 Ariel, B. and Bland, M., 2019. Is crime rising or falling? A comparison of police-recorded crime and victimization surveys. In Methods of criminology and criminal justice research. Emerald Publishing Limited.
 Maguire, M. (2012). Criminal statistics and the construction of crime. In The Oxford Handbook of Criminology (pp. 206–244). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 Stonewall. (2022). The truth about trans. https://www.stonewall.org.uk/truth-about-trans