Theresa May accused of mixing up learning disabilities with mental health issues

Prime Minister's slip-up 'very worrying', say charities

Niamh McIntyre
Monday 15 May 2017 17:06 BST
Woman confronts Theresa May over disability payment cuts

Theresa May has been accused of mixing up learning disabilities with mental health.

On the campaign trail in Oxfordshire, the prime minister was confronted by a woman with learning disabilities called Cathy, who passionately told her about the effect of losing her disability benefits

“I can’t live on £100 a month. The fat cats keep the money and us lot get nothing!” Cathy said.

Ms May answered that the Conservatives “had a lot of plans for people with mental health”.

Mental health and learning disability organisations have now criticised the PM for conflating the two.

Ismail Kaji, Mencap’s Parliamentary Affairs Support Officer, said: “I was really worried to hear Theresa May keep talking about mental health, when Cathy said she has a learning disability, which is not anything to do with mental health. That makes me think that Theresa May is unclear on the difference, and that is very worrying."

Mr Kaji who has a learning disability himself, pointed out that mental health problems can affect anyone at any time, and may be overcome with treatment. A learning disability is a lifelong condition.

He said: "Like Cathy, many people with a learning disability are scared of changes to their disability benefits and are understandably angry.

“Disability benefit cuts are a really big issue for everyone with a disability. I hope that whichever party wins this election, listens to people like Cathy and makes sure that people with a learning disability are able to have the support they need.”

Christine Burke, lead for people with learning disabilities at the Mental Health Foundation said :“People with learning disabilities are at increased risk of developing mental health problems, but the two are very different and distinct.”

Mental health problems cover a range of emotional, psychological and psychiatric conditions, and two in three people will face a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime.

Having a learning disability means that people find it harder to learn certain life skills, such as learning new things, communication, managing money, reading, writing, or personal care.”

Learning Disability England said conflating learning disability and mental health was a common problem, which has had tangible impacts on welfare policy, affecting people like Cathy.

Alicia Wood, the organisations's co-founder, said: “We have experienced senior ministers responsible for welfare reform making the same mistake. The belief that a learning disability is a health problem that can be cured or improved is not the way forward when planning policy and investing in social care and welfare.

"It has meant that people with learning disabilities have not had the investment in the support and income they need to live equal lives."

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