The head of the Prime Minister’s policy department, George Freeman MP has this week apologised after tweeting that disability benefits should go to ‘really disabled people’ rather than those who are ‘taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.’
The comments sparked outrage. But perhaps, if MP Freeman hadn’t referenced anxiety, would we all be so angry about his comments? Yes, benefits should go to those most in need, with the most severe disabilities. It’s a difficult debate for me to engage with, as I have seen first hand what severe disabilities look like — as my dad had progressive primary MS throughout my childhood. But as a family, we have also suffered with anxiety.
The condition gives the sufferer panic attacks, the inability to leave the house, the unshakable belief you’re going to die any moment. It strips away your rationale leaving you devoid of any means of grounding or orientating yourself in the world.
Physical disabilities also go hand in hand with this type of disorder sometimes. Dad couldn’t walk, talk, see, control his bladder, swallow and many other things during the progression of his condition. At the same time, his brain was dying. His mental capacity reducing every day. His disabilities were the epitome of severe.
But to imply that anxiety sufferers are just obsessive pill takers, sitting at home, is offensive, upsetting and quite frankly — incredibly ignorant.
The majority of anxiety sufferers I have ever met, myself included, are high-functioning, hard working people, often too guarded to tell anyone about their problems or condition.
From my own perspective, it comes out in an inability to relax, an inability to not do something productive every minute of the day. Then conversely, it’s the burn out, the inability to get out of bed, an inability to sleep in the first place.
I think that in some ways, we all have varying degrees of this condition. Just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s any less valid a feeling or disorder. If anything, it makes it more necessary than ever to recognise it, try and treat it and develop new ways of tackling it every day.
Disabilities are complex, physical and mental conditions that combined can result in a pretty sh**ty quality of life if those that have them are not supported.
MP Freeman’s comment precede changes that could see the number of people that are eligible to claim disability benefits reduce by 160,000 and cut £3.7bn from the government’s benefits bill over the next five years.
What his comments reveal then is the ruthless way policy makers are looking to categorise what counts as a valid disability in order to justify the reduction in the support they are offering.
To be supported as a disabled person, you must tick the right boxes in order to qualify, to be eligible to be disabled.
Anxiety, it seems, does not fit the bill. And even though MP Freeman has since apologised, referencing his own childhood experience of anxiety and depression, I’m not convinced that the apology will really make any difference to the government’s plans to strip back the lifelines on which anxiety sufferers and the physically disabled all depend.