COMMENT by Dan White @DanWhite1972
In a time of global crisis, communities should be able to rely on their elected representatives for support and guidance, regardless of their voting persuasions. Those deemed responsible for the lives and laws for said communities should be vocal and visual, especially when the country is at war with an invisible enemy that is especially targeting and decimating that representative’s charges. The community in question here is the disabled community, a community of power and talent. However, at the moment disability is in flux, people are worried, getting no answers, or reassurance as a silent killer stalks the land. Disability is seemingly abandoned by the man charged with representing it, Justin Tomlinson MP, the minister for disabled people.
Covid, the said invisible enemy, has run rampant through the disabled community, affecting it more than any other. The statistics speak for themselves, especially this week on the first anniversary of the pandemic explosion. 59% of all covid related deaths had a disability. To put that into numbers is even more horrifying, 88,000 out of the 146,487 deaths from the virus were disabled people, and this number tragically grows daily. People with learning disabilities are more prone to infection and even disabled children, the most vulnerable, the most precious are becoming just numbers on an ever-growing and ignored numbers chart. That alone should be front-page news, sending shockwaves through parliament to hammer upon Mr. Tomlinson’s door.
Throughout Covid, Mr. Tomlinson has been a representative not representing. The question must be asked what has he been doing? He must be aware of the terrible statistics, the numbers are there to see on the Government website, hidden in plain sight. What, indeed, has his department been doing or saying to comfort the souls of 14 million worthy people? He seems to be doing very little, failing miserably at his post, scuttling around avoiding the questions, taking no responsibility, safe behind an oak door in Westminster. Happy that a weak and partisan tabloid media are not calling for his head, he has become Griffin, the invisible man.
Look, I know, we know this is a crisis of health not seen since the Spanish flu. Governments are trying to do the right thing where they can, people are trying their best, finding their feet, and Justin Tomlinson does seem an amiable, hard-working and honest sort of fellow, but he is showing he is not fit for such an important ministerial post. Virtually every other cabinet minister has stood in front of the nation and soullessly acted out their pretend sympathy to the country. We have heard from everyone, from the woefully inept Helen Whatley (the ironically named care minister) to even the minister for culture, Oliver Dowden, but not the man responsible for a community desperately looking for answers and help in a crisis. Disabled leaders and charities get the distinct impression that, as usual, disability, even in the grip of a horrific pandemic, is playing second fiddle to theatres, football fans, and holidaymakers. In short, it was and is looking like disability is collateral and expendable in the eyes of a system obsessed with productivity and profit before people.
Some people may think I am being overly harsh, selfish even as the death toll tragically rises, but, I am a father to a disabled child, I live with a hidden disability, my anger is justified, we have seen all our daughter’s services halted and still no sign of a vaccine for either her or me. Our story is just one of many that fill my inbox daily from families of disabled people, stories of being thrown the lion of Covid, a community silenced and seemingly sacrifical.
Disability and disabled people have always been oppressed and are presently still living with the legacy of austerity that has no doubt been a further reason for the horrific percentage of deaths. Lockdowns have seen disabled people and their carers abandoned to their isolated, forgotten fates, alone and unable to access help. There are no measures in place to protect the community, even though (and painfully obvious even to the average joe) disabled people are likely to have more than one long-term health condition, meaning they are at greater risk of covid-19. Tomlinson, if he has ever had even a passing interest in his job should be aware of this, he should be seen, in the public eye, comforting, talking, implementing, it’s his job for crying out loud, there are mass fatalities on his watch, actual people expiring in hospital wards, alone and unheard.
For the Government and the minister for disabled people there can be now no redemption, no sudden and false concern, it is too late, the damage is done, the community decimated. The legacy of Tomlinson and this administration will be one of long-standing inequality, one of shoulder shrugging, one of a passive non-response to mounting casualties. If there is to be a legacy from this appalling dereliction of duty, then it must be an apology for weakness and invisibility from both him, his party, and a tabloid media guilty of towing the party line. This ministerial position that has failed can be readdressed and rebranded in the most obvious way possible, make the minister for disabled people a disabled person, lived experience and shared values, there really is no other way to avoid constantly repeating ignorance, failure, and history.