Disabled campaigners have expressed anger at reports that former health and social care secretary Matt Hancock considered blocking disability funding to persuade an MP to vote in favour of Covid restrictions at the height of the pandemic.
The allegations emerged as the Daily Telegraph continued its investigation into tens of thousands of WhatsApp messages leaked to the paper.
The Telegraph reported this week that Hancock’s political aide Allan Nixon had suggested telling Bury North MP James Daly (paywall) that funding for a new centre for people with learning difficulties in his constituency would be “off the table” if he failed to vote for new lockdown measures in December 2020.
Hancock is reported to have replied: “Yes 100%.”
Daly eventually voted against the measures, as part of a sizeable backbench Conservative rebellion, but they were approved by MPs by 291 votes to 78.
Daly told the Telegraph this week that he had repeatedly campaigned for the centre – although it is not clear what it would have offered – but it had still not been approved and Hancock “never showed the slightest bit of interest in supporting it”.
He said: “I think it is appalling. The fact that they would only give a much-needed support for disabled people if I voted for this was absolutely disgusting.”
Hancock is reported to have said this week that the WhatsApp messages were taken out of context and were not acted on.
But Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said: “These comments between Nixon and Hancock are horrific, despicable, and beyond contempt.”
He added: “A month before these comments, the first ONS data came in about the impacts of Covid on people with learning disabilities.
“The chances of someone with a learning disability dying of Covid at this point was six times more than a person without a learning disability.
“People with learning disabilities were also denied information about the pandemic, and protective measures, due to the persistent failure of government to produce critical public information in alternative formats at the same time as conventional formats.
“Easy read formats, a type of pictorial document used widely by people with learning disabilities, were especially hard to come by in a timely fashion.
“These texts show a shocking level of disregard by those at the very top of government for people with learning disabilities during the pandemic.
“As a community, they were thrown to the wolves, as were disabled people in general.
“We often feel like second class citizens. Our country’s leaders should be modelling respect, dignity and protection for disabled people, especially during the pandemic when six in 10 deaths were those of disabled people.”
The disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Barnet said on Twitter that DR UK had “got it spot on”, adding: “To play with disabled people’s lives for the sake of political gains is appalling.”
Picture: Kamran Mallick (left) and Matt Hancock (wearing tie and jacket)
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