Leaked WhatsApp messages sent by Matt Hancock during the pandemic show a “a horrific level of contempt and judgement” for disabled people, who have been used as “bargaining chips” by those in power, charities have said.
The WhatsApp messages, revealed by The Telegraph, appeared to show the former Health Secretary threatening to block funding for a local disability hub in the constituency of an MP if he did not vote in favour of lockdown measures.
Leaked messages between Mr Hancock and a political aide from December 2020 show the pair suggesting they would take the plan for the hub “off the table” if the MP for Bury North, James Daly, voted against the Government’s plan to introduce a tougher local tiers system of Covid-19 restrictions.
Kamran Mallick, the chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said the messages showed “a horrific level of contempt and judgement for disabled people” who “were considered expendable as part of a bullying carrot and stick approach to controlling MPs”.
He added: “A month before these comments, the first ONS data came in about the impacts of Covid on people with learning disabilities. The chances of someone with a learning disability dying of Covid at this point was six times more than a person without a learning disability.”
“These texts show a shocking level of disregard by those at the very top of Government for people with learning disabilities during the pandemic. As a community, they were thrown to the wolves, as were Disabled people in general.”
Jackie O’Sullivan, director of Communication, Advocacy and Activism at the learning disability charity Mencap said it was “shocking” to see people with a learning disability “being used as a bargaining chip”.
“Instead of playing political games, the Government should be focusing on properly funding social care, which is essential for millions of disabled people who are in a desperate situation,” she added.
In the Whatsapp messages, which have been published by The Telegraph, Matt Hancock’s political aide Allan Nixon can be seen offering his boss suggestions on how to ensure enough Tory MPs backed the new lockdown tier plan.
“I think we need to dangle some of our top asks over some of these 2019 intake MPs who are going off the boil this coming week,” Mr Nixon said. “Eg James wants his Learning Disability Hub in Bury – whips call him up and say Health team want to work with him to deliver this but that’ll be off the table if he rebels,” he added.
“Yes 100%,” Mr Hancock replied.
The exchange is part of over 100,000 of Mr Hancock’s Whatsapp messages that have been leaked to The Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who had been given access to them when ghostwriting the former health secretary’s memoir.
In a statement, Mr Hancock said the messages represent “a partial, biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda” and said he would not be commenting further on other stories until he addresses the official UK Covid-19 Inquiry.
Mr Daly told The Telegraph he was “appalled” and “disgusted” that the disability hub he had been campaigning for had been discussed in this way, but said he was never contacted by the Whips’ Office and no threat to block the hub had been made.
Former Conservative Party chairman Jake Berry told Times Radio on Tuesday that Mr Hancock had “crossed the line” and was “drunk on the power of ordering people round and telling people what to do”.