Hate Crime After Brexit: Linking Terrestrial and New Forms of Data to Inform Governance

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Social Sciences


The Crown Prosecution Service defines hate crime as any criminal offence which is perceived to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person's race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity, with crimes based on xenophobia being recorded by the police as race or religious hostility. The Home Office (2017) shows there were 80,393 hate crime offences recorded in 2016/17, compared with 62,518 the year before, a 29 per cent increase. Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates, arguably a more reliable measure of hate crime victimisation due to their insensitivity to changes in police training/recording practices, show that hate crime, along with general crime, decreased between 2008 and 2015, before turning to show an increase in race and religious hate crime from 112,000 to 117,000 crimes (5 per cent) between 13/15 and 15/17. This is a significant turning point, as it reflects the first rise in hate crime recorded by the Survey in 10 years, while almost all other forms of crime continue to fall. While the increase in police recorded crime can be partially attributed to greater reporting, the Home Office report is unequivocal in detailing a genuine rise in hate crime, particularly around the EU Referendum. Research has also shown the changing nature of hate crime post-Brexit vote, with increases in the targeting of victims from mainland Europe (including non-Eastern Europeans), in new ways (e.g. 'gamification' of hate crime - 'Punish a Muslim Day', and online offences), with new consequences (e.g. leaving England and Wales for Scotland and other European countries) (Burnett 2017, Chakraborti 2017, Rzepnikowska 2018). The reported stark increase in prevalence and change in the nature of hate post-Brexit vote requires new governance models to be formulated. This response has begun, with the publication of the Home Office Hate Crime Action Plan (July 2016) that includes initiatives to increase reporting, secure places of worship, and to develop our understanding of the 'drivers of hate'. In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions is planning for stiffer penalties for online hate abusers, and a review is underway on hate crime legislation in Scotland. These responses are clear indicators that the government recognises the changing nature of hate crime. Despite these efforts, fresh calls for government to re-examine how it deals with hate crime have been made in relation to improving reporting, victim services and community cohesion post-Brexit (Chakraborti 2017). Significant questions remain over the short- and long-term causes of this rise in hate crime, what the implications are for the governance of this problem, and the wider linked issues of segregation, community cohesion and fostering new shared principles of citizenship post-Brexit. For example, isolated data sources cannot tell us if the rise in hate crime was due to increased reporting by victims and witnesses, better recording by police, an actual increase in perpetration because of the vote and leave campaign, or a combination of multiple factors. Our underlying assumption is that better information about the patterns and drivers of Brexit-related hate crime is a precondition for better governance. This project will develop innovative methods, using linked survey, administrative, press and social media data, to address this. The design of new governance interventions requires robust analysis of all available data (not just police and survey data in isolation), linked in a way that allow longitudinal analysis by geography. Only with such data and methodological innovations can policy-makers be made aware of the most significant driving factors of Brexit-related hate crime.

Planned Impact

This project will build up a strong evidence base, using linked heterogeneous data, to inform policy development, intervention and decision making related to the governance of Brexit-related hate crime. The project will demonstrate how terrestrial and new forms of data, when ethically linked and repurposed using data science tools and methods, can have a transformative impact on how governments, criminal justice and the third sector work to address hate crime, its consequences on individuals and communities, and its underlying drivers.

We will work closely with the Policy CI, the UK Head of the Cross-Government Hate Crime Programme at the Department for Communities and Local Government, and government, criminal justice and third sector stakeholders, to co-produce an evidence base on the utility of linked data for policy and decision making. We will achieve this by:

--Involving the UK Head of the Cross-Government Hate Crime Programme as a CI on the project to ensure maximum buy-in at a policy level. He will feed project results and governance recommendations through the Programme via its Strategy Board that consists of all relevant ministers, senior criminal justice personnel, and senior civil servants;

--Involving key stakeholders working in hate crime policy and practice (policy, criminal justice and third sector), in an online Dephi Panel, where statistical model results will be shared to facilitate the exchange of ideas on new governance models;

--Running two policy-maker, criminal justice and third sector events (London and Manchester) to disseminate project findings;

--Writing an ESRC Policy Evidence Briefing for dissemination at Westminster events;

--Providing free access to a new linked data-source with associated training materials on the correlates of post-Brexit hate crime for reanalysis at the national, regional and local level;

--Providing free access to an enhanced online Ethics Guide for using Social Media and Linked Data for academic and non-academic researchers.


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Description The project was driven by four interrelated hypotheses:

H1: The Brexit vote is statistically associated with an increase in RR hate crimes.

Previous research has indicated a statistical association exists between events and hate crimes (Hanes and Machin 2014; King and Sutton 2014; Williams and Burnap 2016; Edwards and Rushin 2019; Müller and Schwarz 2020, 2021). 'Trigger events', such as terror attacks, court cases and political votes, can act as vectors for the communication of novel information about group processes that can galvanise existing negative prejudices towards an outgroup. A host of working-papers have found an association between the Brexit vote and a rise in RR hate crimes in England and Wales (Devine 2018; Albornoz et al. 2020; Carr et al. 2020; Schilter (2020). Building on this work, the first supposition in the present study is that the vote outcome represented a 'shock' that reduced the suppression and increased the justification for the expression of prejudice resulting in an increase in race and religious hate crimes targeting members of the 'outgroup' in an attempt to protect economic (e.g. threats to jobs, housing, NHS waiting times) and symbolic (e.g. threats to way of life) resources of the 'ingroup'.

H2: The Brexit vote effect on RR hate crime will be equal to, or greater, than the effect of other 'trigger events'.

Carr et al. (2020) considered the possibility that other events may have also caused a spike in hate crime, given their role in promoting a shift in social norms. They compared the effect of the Brexit vote to events that occurred before it, such as terrorist attacks in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, as well as elections, and found the magnitude of the Brexit vote effect on RR hate crime was roughly equal to the effect (in terms of magnitude and duration) of the Lee Rigby murder in 2013. This finding suggests that the effect of a terrorist attack and the public information shock of the referendum outcome are comparable. Our second supposition is the Brexit vote outcome effect on RR hate crime will be equal to, or greater, than 'trigger events' that took place after (between June 2016 and September 2017).

H3: There is geographical heterogeneity in the effect of the Brexit vote on an increase in RR hate crimes, which is a function of vote share and demographic differences at the regional (England and Wales compared to Scotland and Northern Ireland) and PFA level.

Prior studies agree that vote share is a key reason for geographical heterogeneity in the Brexit vote effect on hate crime, but disagree on the direction of influence. Carr et al. (2020) found that the post-vote increase in RR hate crime was greater in pro-leave areas. Conversely, Albornoz et al. (2020) at the national level, and Schilter (2020) at the city level (Manchester and London), found that the increase was more pronounced in pro-remain areas. Schilter also found that areas with a higher number of recent immigrants and people with formal qualifications were also associated with a higher RR hate offence rate post-vote. The third supposition in this study is that places with the largest increase in RR hate crime also have vote (pro-leave) and demographic (more deprived) characteristics that mean certain members of the 'in-group' are more susceptible to the associated divisive threat narratives pre-vote and the temporal shock of the result post-vote, leading to an increased justification for hate crimes.

H4: Variation by PFA in police social media communications encouraging hate crime reporting is not associated with recording rates of RR hate crimes in the wake of the Brexit vote.

The Home Office and many right-leaning press outlets were quick to explain the rapid rise in RR hate crimes following the Brexit vote as primarily a function of increased victim and witness reporting. In the past five years, social media has become the primary way police forces inform the public about unfolding crime trends (Schneider 2016). The fourth supposition in this study is that police forces that more frequently encouraged reporting on social media did not record more hate crime than those forces that encouraged reporting less frequently. We extend this supposition by claiming Crime Survey for England and Wales data do not show any significant variation in hate crime reporting rates before, during and after the study period.

Supporting the first hypothesis, we found that following the referendum vote on the future of the United Kingdom in the EU, there were an additional c.1,100 RR hate crimes (a 29 per cent increase on the month prior) in England and Wales than there would have been in the absence of the vote. This is slightly smaller than Carr et al.'s (2020) estimate of a 35-39 per cent increase in England and Wales at the PFA level, but consistent with all previous work that has examined the effect of the Brexit vote on RR hate crimes (Albornoz et al. 2020; Schilter 2020; Piatkowska and Lantz 2021). This finding is also consistent with the conceptual work on the temporal patterning of hate crime which is largely driven by 'trigger events' (Hanes and Machin 2014; King and Sutton 2014; Williams and Burnap 2016; Edwards and Rushin 2019; Müller and Schwarz 2020). While we were unable to directly test the theory due to the lack of relevant variables at the PFA level, like the studies before ours, we interpret the dramatic spike in RR hate crimes by considering the vote outcome as a 'shock' that reduced suppression and increased justification forces for the expression and experience of prejudice in the form of hate crimes (Crandal and Eshleman 2003). One such justification force that has been associated with hate crime is the perception of realistic and symbolic threat (e.g. threats to jobs, housing, etc. and threats to a way of life, respectively) (Stephan and Stephan 2000). Such threats were increasingly portrayed as emanating from EU migrants by the Vote Leave, Leave.EU and UKIP campaigns in the weeks running up to the vote. A study on the press in the weeks leading up to the vote found immigration and the economy were the two most-covered issues in reportage described as acrimonious and divisive, with particular groups (Turkish and Polish) receiving negative treatment (Moore and Ramsay 2017).

Supporting the second hypothesis we found that the vote effect on RR hate crimes was equal to, or greater than, 'trigger events' that took place after, between June 2016 and September 2017. The only 'trigger event' likely to exhibit a greater effect was the Manchester Arena terror attack in May 2017. This finding extends the work of Carr et al. (2020) who compared the effect of the events on RR hate crime before the vote, concluding that the effect of a terrorist attack and the public information shock of the referendum outcome are comparable. Similar to the vote, terror attacks prompt mass news coverage that have the potential to increase perceived threat, not only to life, but to a way of life, which in turn can increase the justification for the expression and experience of prejudice. Our finding resonates with that of Legewie (2013) who established a significant association between anti-immigrant sentiment and the Bali and Madrid terrorist bombings using Eurobarometer data. The Bali attack was the cause of a significant worsening in attitudes towards all immigrants in Portugal, Poland and Finland. The strength of the effect of the attack was enhanced if the person lived in an area with high unemployment-both Poland and Portugal showed the highest increase in unemployment in 2001-02. The effect was also stronger on people who did not have immigrants as friends or co-workers but who lived in areas with high immigrant numbers. These findings were replicated in relation to the Islamist terrorist bombing in Madrid in 2004. The proportion of the Spanish population that thought immigration was one of the most important issues the country was facing rose from 8 per cent to 21 per cent immediately after the attack, with the effect being strongest in areas with high unemployment. This study supports the finding that terror attacks cause a worsening in attitudes towards immigrants, especially in people who live in areas characterised by high unemployment, high immigration and low contact with the outgroup.

To identify if similar demographic characteristics played a role in shaping the RR hate crime rate post vote, we hypothesised that areas with the highest spike in Brexit-related hate crime also had high migration, unemployment and leave vote share. The demographic portion of our supposition was based on research that shows some areas that voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU saw inward migration rise from 1 in 50 to 1 in 4 the decade before. These places also suffered some of the biggest cuts in jobs and services in the United Kingdom. Migration to these areas is largely comprised of younger non-English speaking low-skilled workers (ONS 2017). The combination of unemployed locals and an abundance of employed migrants, competing for scarce resources in a time of recession and cutbacks, creates a greater feeling of 'Us' and 'Them' resulting in a process of 'Othering'. A lack of interaction between the local and migrant population results in rising tensions, due to a lack of inter-cultural transmission and understanding. Research shows that Polish migrants felt more at risk in deprived areas with a high white working-class presence, than in more affluent areas (Rzepnikowska 2019). We hypothesised that the combined temporal shock of the vote outcome interacting with demographic factors associated with increased threat perception and ingroup preferences would result in reduced suppression and increased justification for hate crimes. Our hypothesis was only partially supported, with only vote share emerging as significant, suggesting the demographic characteristics above played a non-existent or limited role when analysed alongside each other and other factors at the PFA level. However, the lack of association may be a result of the small cross-section of 43 PFAs used in the analysis, resulting in reduced statistical power.

The third hypothesis was however partially supported, as those PFAs with greater remain vote shares tended to have smaller increases in hate crimes after the Brexit vote. In addition, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with largely remain voting PFAs, also showed smaller increases. These results are supported by Carr et al. (2020) but are in contrast to Albornoz et al. (2020) and Schilter (2020) who find a greater increase in hate crimes in remain areas. Albornoz et al., using data from the British Election Study, found that a 1 per cent increase in the proportion voting remain in each CSP increased the level of hate crime by 0.5 per cent. They explained their finding by arguing that vote outcome shifted the dominant worldview by exposing that anti-immigrant attitudes were more widespread than was previously believed, and therefore justifying them, more so in remain areas. This is because the behavioural adjustment was larger in these areas-prejudiced individuals living in remain areas that are pro-diversity will likely have a history of supressing prejudice, against their preference, but when they discover (or perceive) that the country at large shares their views, the justification for the expression of prejudice increases. However, like Carr et al., we advance a more straightforward argument to explain our finding that hate crimes tended to be higher in leave voting PFAs in England and Wales-in leave areas there are more people with existing prejudiced attitudes towards racial and religious minorities, who felt justified to express these attitudes verbally and violently, following the shock outcome of the vote that indicated they were not alone in their thinking.

The differences between studies that find increased hate crime rates in Leave areas, and those that show increased hate crime rates in Remain areas, are best explained by methodological factors, such as statistical model specification, study design and spatial and temporal scales of the data used in estimation. For example, Schilter only included London and Manchester in their models, and Carr et al. note that the determinant in Albornoz et al. is the interaction of 'post-Brexit' with a share of the vote for Remain in the Community Safety Partnership area, but because of fixed effects the vote share cannot be estimated, and the post-Brexit dummy is not included in the regression. When the dummy is included, the effect in Remain areas disappears.

As our analysis is dependent on police recorded crimes, we wanted to rule out the role of more reporting in the increase found in RR hate crimes. As no conventional measure on variability in reporting by PFA was available, we innovated by collecting police social media communications. Over the past decade, social media has become the most used method for engaging with the public, as it benefits from mass reach and immediacy of communication (Schneider 2016). We found that variation by PFA in police social media communications encouraging hate crime reporting was not associated with recording rates of RR hate crimes in the wake of the Brexit vote, supporting the last hypothesis (sample limitations accepted). If we accept that these communications are a viable proxy measure for variability in reporting, we can tentatively conclude that the rise in RR hate crimes following the vote was driven primarily by an increase in actual perpetration rather than reporting. This argument is supported by data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales that shows the two-year average reporting rate for RR hate crime in the 2011-12 to 2014-15 and the post vote period was near identical (50.6 per cent and 50.5 per cent respectively). However, we accept that the two-year averaged CSEW measures are too blunt a tool to identify changes in reporting behaviour in the month after the vote. Carr et al. use more granular data from the CSEW in a formal test of any change in the probability of reporting RR hate crimes, relative to other crimes, before and after the referendum vote. They found that the probability of reporting rose by 5.5 per cent post vote, concluding that around one-third of the increase in RR hate crimes is due to an up-tick in reporting behaviour. However, this is likely to be a significant overestimate given the CSEW does not include a large proportion of aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress offences6 that made up the majority of RR hate crimes post vote.


There are several limitations to this work which future studies might seek to address. Utilising PFA at the spatial level and month at the temporal level precluded a more nuanced analysis of the role of demographic factors. Future work should consider lower spatial and temporal scales, such as lower or middle-super output area and week, in order to increase statistical power. This may be done in tandem with a more focussed analysis on metropolitan areas, such as London, that have their own unique set of demographic and voting patterns, to identify any variation to the national picture. A lack of data on variation in the activity of local online leave campaigns by PFA meant that we could not isolate their effect on RR hate crime. Previous work has found a link between traditional media output and variation in Brexit-related RR hate crime (Carr et al. 2020) and future work may seek to explore if a similar link exists with online output should geo-tagged data become available. In addition, the hate crime data supplied to us did not provide a breakdown of RR offences by crime type across all areas. Future work may wish to identify if particular crime types (e.g. intentional harassment, alarm or distress) were more or less prone to a rate change post the Brexit vote. Finally, a lack of data on hate crime police training over time and PFA meant that we could not isolate the effect of changes in police recording practice. Future work may obtain such data via freedom of information requests, or develop alternative proxy measures.

This project provides the first Brexit-related RR hate crime comparison between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, showing that remain areas saw smaller increases, but that theoretically relevant demographic factors did not emerge as predictive. Additionally, our models found that, bar one event, the Brexit vote had the greatest effect on RR hate crime in the analysis period. Finally, using a novel proxy measure for variation in hate crime reporting, we found no association indicating the rise in Brexit-related RR hate crimes was more likely a function of increased perpetration. Our analysis lends some support to the Justification-Suppression Model of the Expression and Experience of Prejudice (Crandal and Eshleman 2003). It seems reasonable to assume the Brexit vote acted as a 'trigger event', communicating novel information about group processes that galvanised existing negative prejudices towards outgroups. The vote outcome therefore likely represented a 'shock' that reduced the suppression and increased the justification for the expression of prejudice resulting in an increase in RR hate crimes. However, we found no support for Integrated Threat Theory (ITT) (Stephan and Stephan 2000), as our demographic factors that acted as proxies for economic threat (e.g. threats to jobs, housing, NHS waiting times) and symbolic threat (e.g. threats to way of life) did not reach statistical significance (although this is possibly due to limits to statistical power which our future work seeks to remedy).


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Devine, D. (2018), 'The UK Referendum on Membership of the European Union as a Trigger Event for Hate Crimes', Working paper, University of Southampton.

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Exploitation Route There seems to be no slowing in the rise in police recorded hate crime, and in the regularity of trigger events (e.g. Brexit, COVID-19, Russia-Ukraine conflict) that seem to have powerful observable positive associations with the hardening of prejudiced attitudes and in turn the expression of identity-based hostility. Significant questions remain over the short- and long-term governance of hate crime. The Government's continued reliance on traditional criminal justice interventions of more or better policing and harsher sentencing must remain under question. That hate crime is so dependent on temporal forces clearly suggests a reassessment of the utility of these governance models, designed in response to less retaliatory and defensive crimes, is in order.

The Principal Investigator of this study is feeding the findings through to Government (Westminster and Welsh Government) via his formal advisory roles.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

Description The findings have led to greater understanding of the causes of hate crime, in particular the role of 'trigger events', such as political votes, terror attacks and high profile court cases, amongst practitioners via the inclusion of our operational and policy CI. The meetings with members of the National Online Hate Crime Hub and the National Police Chiefs' Council have taken place where statistical summaries have been presented that have gone on to inform the updating of operational guidance.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description BBC One Panorama 'Hate on the Streets' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We participated in BBC One's Panorama 'Hate on the Streets'. The project supplied key evidence on the trends in offline hate crimes following the Brexit vote. The documentary was watched by over 3.4 million.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-jOhDbrQjQ&feature=youtu.be
Description ITV Exposure 'Brexit Online Uncovered' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact We provided key evidence to ITV's Exposure documentary 'Brexit Online Uncovered' that showed the links between Twitter users who were abusing MPs online, and how press headlines were statistically associated with increases in general online hate speech related to Brexit. The documentary had its premiere in the Houses of Parliament hosted by the Rt Hon Antoinette Sandbach MP for Eddisbury. It was viewed by over 4.1 million.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcMYxP9zfVU&feature=youtu.be
Description ITV NEWS Special Report on the rise of online hate speech 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We provided key evidence to an ITV NEWS special report on the rise of online hate speech. It was broadcast nationally on the lunchtime and evening ITV NEWS shows in early March 2020. Estimated audience over both shows ~6 million.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sBHclogub6M&feature=youtu.be