A key aide to UK Prime Minister Theresa May has been branded “insulting” and “nasty” after suggesting during a radio interview that certain disabilities are more worthy of public funds than others.
George Freeman stood by his words on Monday, arguing he knew best, as he too had struggled with childhood anxiety – a condition he had previously classed as not “really disabled.”
He later tweeted his “regret” over the comment, saying it was not his intent to offend.
The row began when the head of the Downing Street policy board went on Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 live to discuss a recent court decision that ruled people with mental health issues should be supported like those who are physically disabled.
“We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it,” Freeman said as he defended the government’s decision to roll back personal independence payments (PIP).
“Benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety,” he said, adding that benefits should go to “the really disabled people who need it” instead.
..regret if my comment about the need to prioritise the most ‘serious disabilities’ inadvertently caused any offence which was not intended.
— George Freeman MP (@Freeman_George) February 27, 2017
Faced with criticism from Labour politicians and the public, Freeman simply tweeted: “I don’t need any lectures on the damage anxiety does, [to be honest].”
Figures show that 160,000 people will be denied disability benefits worth more than £3.7 billion ($4.6 billion) over the next five years if disabilities minister Penny Mordaunt’s PIP reform goes ahead.
Govt to pass emergency laws to overturn court rulings which give PIP benefit to 150,000 mentally disabled people and save £3.7bn over 5yrs
— Paul Lewis (@paullewismoney) February 25, 2017
Last October, a United Nations inquiry found the governing Conservative Party guilty of “grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities.”
The independent Equality and Human Rights Commission too found Freeman’s comments worrying, suggesting they could add to the existing stigma surrounding mental health.
“Any decisions should be based on sound evidence and not sweeping generalisations,” said the commission’s chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath.
“There are many people who have unseen disabilities and they need just as much support. These comments will only feed into negative perceptions of disability and add to the stigma surrounding mental health issues.”
LRt please do not fall into the trap of pitching ‘physical disability’ against ‘pychological’, all disabled people are in this together
— Bolli B (@LaSouvarine) February 27, 2017
Freeman’s comments came just a day after a disabled woman blamed the Conservative government for her decision to end her life at a Swiss clinic.
In an interview with the Mirror, Crohn’s disease sufferer Marie Lopez said she had chosen to use her last £10,000 on assisted suicide in a clinic in Switzerland because government cuts have denied her proper care.
“I have not taken this decision lightly. I am ready to die to put an end to my misery. Crohn’s might not be terminal but, believe me, it kills at a slow pace,” the former businesswoman said.
“I have been on morphine for over eight years as the pain is now constant and tremendous. You wouldn’t keep an animal alive in the state I am in. I cannot get the care I need at home to make my life more comfortable either.”
Crohn’s is an incurable illness affecting the digestive system, which leaves sufferers in extreme pain, unable to move or eat, lethargic and often leads to bouts of depression.
The 38 hours a week of social care Lopez needs to cope with her illness were cut back, and she has had to fund her own care, leaving her nearly bankrupt.
“I live in complete social isolation. I’m lonely,” she added.
“This is not something I am doing on a whim or as a protest. Social services are not responsible for my illness or my full decision to die, but their actions, policies and the stress caused encouraged me to do it early.”