My brother Jonny died on Christmas morning a few years back. He was in his early thirties, and was on both the autism and schizophrenia spectrums. While kind, thoughtful, and clever, he was unable to work since he didn’t have the support he needed. He spent years being moved around various forms of chronically understaffed and underfunded sheltered accommodation; and it was in one such place that he died.
Tragically, among multiple other systemic failures, the sole person working there that night who was supposed to routinely check each room at 10pm, was new and hadn’t gone through mandatory training. Because of this, they simply didn’t check in during the time-frame within which he may have been saved.
This lack of support was in significant part due to Tory austerity, which ruthlessly undermined all the services that should have kept him safe. This was so to the extent that austerity was condemned in a 2018 UN report for breaching international agreements regarding the rights of disabled people. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how he’s become part of that ‘austerity to blame for 120,000 deaths‘ statistic from the previous year.
But to me he was my brother, and my best friend back when we lived together as kids. Later, as an adult I always wished I could help look out for him. Unfortunately we lived far apart, and until fourteen months ago, I was barely able to afford to feed and house myself (let alone a train ticket to visit), despite working long hours. Such is the reality of Tory Britain.
Now, with another election looming, when I see people say things like “Jeremy Corbyn isn’t fit to be prime minister so I’m voting Tory”, what I hear is “I prefer to vote for someone who will kill people like your brother”. That’s not what they intend of course. But it is a wholly predictable effect of their vote, which is by far the most important thing here.
I’ve stopped debating with even remotely dedicated Tories. I rather think theatrical displays of rationality and civility over this sort of thing are abhorrent as well as pointless. And I couldn’t care less that the Channel 4 FactCheck team felt the need to point out that there is an aspect of speculation in the 120,000 statistic. It could have been slightly less, sure. I suspect the number is much higher, not to mention ever increasing.
But if there is anyone out there who is undecided, who has registered to vote but doesn’t closely follow politics, who has voted Tory previously for some passing reason and isn’t so sure this time, or who feels that all politicians are the same–If you care about vulnerable or marginalised people at all, if there is anyone like my brother in your life, please, this time, use your vote to help get the Tories out.
A better Britain is possible. My own preference is for Labour, who have been working closely with autistic and other disabled people to develop an alternative vision. Labour now state on their 2019 manifesto that they will “end this cruelty, restoring the protections that disabled people and their families – many of whom shoulder the cost of their care – should expect in one of the richest countries in the world.” I keep finding myself wondering if Jonny would still be alive had this manifesto had been implemented five years ago.
We’ve now had ten years of the Tories undermining our NHS, our education, our social care, our dignity. In Tory Britain, the preventable deaths of vulnerable people like my brother is increasingly becoming normalised. If we don’t stop them now, I dread to think of how many more thousands will meet the same end over the next five years.