Conservative MPs have been accused of “horribly cynical, shabby” behaviour after sending out identical “template” letters explaining why they would not back a community inclusion bill named after a young disabled man who drowned in an NHS unit.
Campaigners had approached MPs of all parties to ask if they could back efforts to introduce the disabled people (community inclusion) bill, commonly known as the LB bill, which aims to give disabled people “more control over what happens in their lives”.
The bill was drafted by disability campaigners and the family and friends of Connor Sparrowhawk, a young man with epilepsy and autism who drowned in the bath in July 2013 while in an NHS assessment and treatment unit.
But many of those campaigners have now reported receiving identical – or nearly identical – replies from their Conservative constituency MPs after asking them to support the bill.
Each letter (pictured) states that the MP was “greatly saddened” by Connor’s death, that they were “deeply sorry” that he died in the care of Southern Health NHS Trust, and that it was “quite right” that the trust had apologised to Connor’s family.
The MPs – including Damian Green, Jack Lopresti and education secretary Nicky Morgan – go on to say that they had read the proposed bill “with great interest”, and that it was an “important contribution” to the debate on how to improve care for people with learning difficulties.
They draw attention to the last government’s No Voice Unheard, No Right Ignored green paper, and end by saying: “I hope that this is an area that the newly elected Government will choose to examine carefully before deciding how best to support and care for patients.”
Dr Sara Ryan, Connor’s mother, said she found it “pretty offensive” that MPs should use “cut and paste sentiments” in their letters.
She has now seen letters from 11 Tory MPs that have used the template for their responses, with one MP sending the same template letter to two different constituents.
And she said the MPs would have realised – if they had read the bill – that the proposals were not focused on Connor’s death at all.
She said: “We have got a group of citizens trying to do good stuff and then these MPs who are elected to work on our behalf are just chucking the template back at us without understanding what the situation is.”
Mark Neary, himself a prominent campaigner and carer – and a supporter of the LB Bill – wrote in a blog about what he called The “Deeply Saddened” Letters.
He said the excitement of receiving replies from MPs had “quickly turned into a heart sinking ache as we’ve realised that the Tory MPs are using a template letter to address their constituent’s request”.
Neary, who has not had any reply from his own MP, Boris Johnson, added: “And then you read the letter and realise what a horribly cynical, shabby piece of work it is.”
A Conservative party spokeswoman said: “I can confirm it hasn’t come from here, so it might be best ringing the MPs’ offices and finding out where they got it.
“Until we know what is going on with it, we are not going to make a statement on it.”
None of the MPs contacted by Disability News Service had responded to a request for a comment by the end of today (18 June).
Although originally drafted by campaigners pushing for justice for Connor Sparrowhawk, the LB bill was later developed alongside disabled people’s organisations such as Inclusion London, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, People First (Self Advocacy), Bristol Disability Equality Forum, Disability Sheffield and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People.
The latest draft version includes a strong commitment to article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, on disabled people’s equal rights to live in the community, “with choices equal to others”.