Disabled campaigners have expressed outrage at the boss of a fast-food chain – and its PR agency – after he said he would prefer to sacrifice “a few thousand lives of very old or vulnerable people” rather than having another national lockdown.
The comments of Julian Metcalfe, founder and chief executive of itsu, were described as “cruel and dehumanising” and “a sign that eugenics is very much alive”.
Metcalfe told a newspaper last week: “Society will not recover if we do it again to save a few thousand lives of very old or vulnerable people.
“The young people of this country will be paying for this for the next 20 to 30 years.”
But itsu’s efforts to defend its chief executive also backfired, when its public relations agency, London-based Spider, refused to say anything other than claiming his comment was “taken out of context”.
Despite Disability News Service asking what context could excuse his comments, Spider refused to answer any emails or phone messages.
Metcalfe was also founder of Pret A Manger, but that chain hurriedly pointed out that he had not run the business for more than 10 years and that the company does “not agree with his opinion”.
There was widespread anger from disabled campaigners at his comments, and at Spider’s efforts to protect him from criticism.
A spokesperson for the Disability Caucus of the Women’s Equality Party – all of whom are disabled party members – said Metcalfe’s statement was “deliberately inflammatory and hateful towards disabled and older people.
“Disabled people have been subjected to this sort of violent, discriminatory abuse throughout the pandemic.
“It seems we are seen as either an inevitable, acceptable loss, or encouraged to go back to the days when we were hidden away in institutions.
“Whilst it is valid to be concerned about our economy and the negative impact a lockdown might have on society, it is possible to express those concerns without making cruel and dehumanising comments about disabled and older people.
“We need to be having constructive conversations about how we protect those who are more vulnerable to COVID-19, rather than furthering the divide by suggesting we are holding the economy to ransom.
“If our economic model cannot cope with the fact a significant portion of our population may need to be protected in a time of crisis, then we should be looking at alternative economic models.”
Anne Pridmore, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, said Metcalfe and Spider’s actions were “outrageous” and that they should be “taken to task”.
She said: “Julian Metcalfe obviously does not value elderly or disabled people.
“To suggest that disabled people don’t deserve to live and that their lives don’t matter is outrageous.
“May I politely remind him that 76 per cent of the 11 million disabled people in this country were not born disabled and if he is lucky enough to escape disability he certainly cannot escape old age.”
She added: “During this pandemic disabled people have been forgotten, many struggling to find any support from local authorities or even have easy access to personal protective equipment.”
Disabled activist Vikki Walton-Cole, who was also critical of Spider’s actions, said: “As a disabled person I was utterly horrified that Metcalfe publicly stated opinions which suggested disabled people’s lives weren’t worth saving.
“This view, which is being repeated over and over in society for the last 10 months, is a sign that eugenics is very much alive as a school of thought when disabled people’s lives are dispensable, especially when there is profit to be made.
“The excuse that this comment was taken out of context does not make this opinion any better.
“There is no context where disabled people’s lives are less important than others just by the fact a person is disabled.
“It is clear that Metcalfe does not want to apologise for his views or want the business of 20 per cent of the UK population.”
Disabled campaigner Susan Angel told Metcalfe via email that she was “utterly disappointed and annoyed” by his comments, adding: “Everyone should be thinking of each other, not how much money they will lose from profits off the back of everyone funding your business.”
Disabled campaigner and retired Paralympian Chris Channon, who has been shielding from the virus, said he was “disgusted” by Metcalfe’s comments.
He said: “A society can only be judged by the way it deals with its citizens – especially those at the bottom of the pile for whatever reason.
“Even if you’re lucky enough to get through life with a degree of ‘normality’ there’s always the risk of illness or accident to land you in the disability world.
“I would also like to say to people like Metcalfe that I have overcome much in my life to the extent that I have made useful contributions to people’s lives.
“I wish him a happy and healthy life and hope that he reflects on and retracts his rather stupid comments.”
Picture: Julian Metcalfe talking to The Oxford Union earlier this year
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