Theresa May has been condemned for seemingly conflating learning disabilities with mental health issues during a rare exchange with a voter who berated her over cuts to disability benefits.
The prime minister was on a walkabout in Abingdon on Monday when a woman called Cathy approached her asking: “Theresa, are you going to help people with learning disabilities?”
Cathy set out how she was struggling and angrily corrected May when the prime minister responded: “We’ve got a lot of plans for people with mental health.”
Ismail Kaji, parliamentary affairs support officer for the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “I have a learning disability and I have disability benefits.
“Like Cathy, many people with a learning disability are scared of changes to their disability benefits and are understandably angry.
“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.”
Mencap defines mental health as “a term used to cover a range of emotional, psychological or psychiatric distress experienced by people” while learning disabilities are “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities”.
Jeremy Corbyn’s former spokesman Matt Zarb-Cousin said her apparent confusion meant May was “not exactly exuding competence”.
Ukip MEP Jane Collins also criticised the PM for conflating the two.
Food blogger and staunch critic of the Tories Jack Monroe called Cathy a “hero”.
During the encounter with May, Cathy described how she had lost her carer and how others with disabilities had suffered as the Disability Living Allowance was replaced by the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
“Do you know what I want? I want my Disability Living Allowance to come back,” she said. “Not have PIPs and get nothing.”
“I can’t live on £100 a month. They just took it all away from me.”
Kaji added: “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.”