Every time I speak at work I have three voices. I have the unusual position of being the policy and campaigns officer for three learning disabilities charities – Voice UK, Ann Craft Trust and Respond.
It’s not freelance or contract work, I have three employers and consequently, three bosses. As such, my job is fundamentally about co-operation.
It is about three charities pooling their expertise and authority to gain a stronger voice when talking to policymakers. Although this format is a little unusual, charities regularly try to unite their voices to achieve change – look at Make Poverty History and the Making Decisions Alliance.
However, we campaigners are not as proactive as we could be in talking to each other or uniting our voices on a more day-to-day basis, outside grand coalitions. I am as much at fault in this as anyone else. The result can be missed opportunities and so less change on the ground. The best example of this is on an issue which, in many ways, unites us all – disability hate crime.
The murders of Steven Hoskin, Raymond Atherton and Brent Martin represent the extreme tip of a nasty iceberg. They unite campaigners in anger and a desire to do something. There is a lot of agreement about how to tackle disability hate crime among campaigners and a lot of good work being done.
Yet, it is not too unusual for me to hear about good initiatives to tackle disability hate crime after they are formally launched and to think that this was something the charities I work for would have been happy to help with.
However, there are also opportunities I should have drawn campaigners attention to. I should have suggested to other charities that they use the equality impact assessment on the government’s new crime strategy to push for action on disability hate crime. I pushed hard and was annoyed to find the crime strategy did not mention disability hate crime and that we were the only disability charities to comment to the Home Office.
Our evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry into the human rights of adults with learning disabilities contained a lot on disability hate crime and I imagine that many other responses did too. I wonder whether there was a missed opportunity here to co-ordinate our lobbying on this issue and so give the joint committee a clear, simple set of recommendations. Simple steps such as sharing drafts of responses to consultations and endorsing each others’ policy positions can make a difference, but I and other campaigners don’t do this as often as we might.
The trouble is that campaigners are always conscious that part of our jobs is to promote our own charities. There is sometimes a lingering concern that joint working will dilute our charities’ brands and be too much effort. Being a three-for-one policy and campaigns officer it is something of which I am particularly aware and which my role shows does not have to be a problem.
There is scope to be more proactive in working together. We can start by joining voices on disability hate crime. I will if you will.
Robin Van den Hende is policy and campaigns officer for Respond, the Ann Craft Trust and Voice UK.
This article appeared in the 29 November issue under the headline “When it comes to fighting hate crime we have to raise our voice”