George Freeman’s comments show you can’t trust the Tories on mental health

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As someone who would consider themselves to be an anxiety sufferer, I don’t expect much.

I don’t expect a parade, nor would I want one. I don’t expect sympathy, nor would I want it.

What I do expect however, is for Conservative members of parliament to understand that anxiety is a genuine ailment that can dramatically shape the lives of people who suffer from it.

As a Labour party activist, what George Freeman said regarding mental health and anxiety legitimately angers me, and the following is why:

First of all, this lack of compassion from a Conservative doesn’t surprise me. But just because I’m not surprised, doesn’t mean Freeman’s comments shouldn’t be called out.

This whole debacle started during an interview Freeman participated in regarding the proposed cuts to Personal Independent Payments (PIP’s). In the interview, Freeman stated; “These tweaks are actually about rolling back some bizarre decisions by tribunals that now mean benefits are being given to people who are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety.”

“We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it.”

Setting aside the issue of cuts to PIP’s, how ignorant do you have to be to compare anxiety to physical disability?

Secondly, how dare he belittle anxiety by denouncing sufferers as “people who are taking pills at home?” I have dealt with my own anxiety for many years now, and I can say that I have never taken a pill for my personal problem; but for those who have taken medication towards their ailment, what on earth is wrong with that? If certain anxiety sufferers take medication for their ailment and it helps with their individual situation, the last thing they deserve is to be smeared because of it. Pills should not be used in a pejorative manner in this context, and Freeman should know better.

The top and tail of the situation is that while Freeman has now apologised for the comment, his views can be interpreted as representative of the Conservatives. His ignorance is not only frustrating, it’s also seriously damaging for the future of mental health and social care in Britain; just like the Tories.

Not only is Freeman an elected representative and that people have chosen him to be their voice in Parliament, he is also director of the number 10 policy unit.

This man directly affects government policy. Let that sink in.

This is exactly the reason why a Labour government is needed now more than ever. Because Freeman has the position he has within the Conservatives, he is a genuine spokesperson for the party. He is a mouth-piece of the government, and in terms of this government; I don’t trust them in the slightest.

Freeman and the Tories need to understand that when someone suffers from anxiety, along with every single person on planet Earth, they are a product of their environment.

There is a reason or set of circumstances why people with anxiety suffer with their ailment, and it’s comments from people like Freeman that make anxiety sufferers feel as if they should be ashamed of who they are.

It needs to be said that I am not a spokesperson for every person who suffers from anxiety, that would be sanctimonious on my part. However, as someone who has personal issues with anxiety I will say that anyone with this ailment should never feel as if it is wrong to suffer.

Furthermore, the worst thing one can do with anxiety, is bottle it up and stay quiet. It may sound cliché but it is genuinely true that no one should have to suffer in silence. Anxiety sufferers deserve more than to suffer in silence.

So, while Freeman has ignored anxiety sufferers, these same anxiety sufferers as well as Labour party activists need to do the opposite.

The Labour party must take comments from people like George Freeman and use them in their stride. As a party, we are the left-of centre party. To many different people this can mean many different things, but in my mind; it means our party stands in the interests of a fairer, more caring and ultimately, a genuinely more compassionate Britain.

We are the progressive party in Britain, and as a party, we must continue to be a champion for Mental Health and Social Care. Because to put simply, it’s people like Freeman that makes it plain to see that the Conservative party isn’t going to champion mental health and social are any time soon.

Finally, to all anxiety sufferers as well as people who are physically disabled I say this; George Freeman does not deserve your silence. Be proud of who you are. The Labour campaign for mental health and the Labour party will always stand in the corner with those who are against the politics of ignorance and division.

Tom Butler is an activist for the Labour campaign for mental health and acting chair of Rotherham Young Labour. 

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