Britain has a proud record of tolerance and acceptance. But even in a country such as ours, we must be on guard against hatred and bigotry and any sign of a resurgence of antisemitism.
Recent reports from the Community Security Trust, which have indicated a rise in antisemitic incidents across the United Kingdom, are deeply worrying. Accounts of Jewish people being verbally abused on the street, placards displaying loathsome threats, and bricks being thrown through synagogue windows are - like any form of hate crime - abhorrent and unacceptable.
When this newspaper conducted a straw poll of Jewish people in north London earlier this month, I was saddened to read that 63 per cent questioned their future in the UK amid a rise in antisemitic incidents.
I am clear that everyone in this country should be able to live their lives free from racial and religious hatred and harassment. No one should live in fear because of their beliefs or who they are.
Since we published our hate crime action plan in 2012, the government has made significant progress. That cross-government plan identified three core objectives: to prevent hate crime, to increase reporting, and to improve the operational response.
There is no place in our country for anti-Jewish hatred
We have provided over £2.3 million of funding to organisations to help achieve those objectives. This includes support for Jewish state schools and voluntary organisations such as the Anne Frank Trust, who work with more than 60,000 young people every year, helping them to challenge discriminatory behaviour.
We have also established a working group to tackle antisemitism, which brings together community representatives and experts from across government to help explore issues affecting Jewish communities.
When unacceptable incidents occur, I want to ensure that they are reported. So we are working closely with the police and criminal justice agencies to encourage victims to report them, for instance through third-party services and the True Vision website. We have also improved the evidence base so we can understand the true scale of hate crime. Police forces have been formally collecting this data since 2011 and, last December, we published an overview of hate crime in England and Wales.
The UK has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry. The number of people receiving a custodial sentence for racially or religiously aggravated crimes is higher than ever before, and these criminals are spending more time in prison. New police guidance, published in May, will ensure that police forces understand local tensions and work with affected communities to keep people safe from harm.
The government makes no apologies for refusing people access to the UK who seek to subvert our shared values. That is why in February this year I excluded Dieudonné M'bala M'bala from entering the UK. He has made antisemitic comments which have no place in our country.
But bigotry and hatred still occur far too often in the UK today. The Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that on average there are 278,000 incidents of hate crime each year with 154,000 cases being racially motivated and 70,000 relating to religion. I know that when hate crimes occur, they can have devastating consequences for victims and their families and friends.
So there is no doubt that there is more to be done. I am absolutely clear that both the operational and legislative response must be kept under constant review, and we must make the most of local knowledge and action. Professionals on the front line, police and Crime Commissioners, the voluntary sector and community groups all have a vital role to play.
Britain has a long and proud reputation as a nation where people are free to speak and practise their religion within the law. So let me be very clear: there is absolutely no place in our country for antisemitism. Whatever form it takes - physical attacks, offensive graffiti, or vile comments online - targeting a person or a group based on their race, religion or belief is something against which we must all take a stand.