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A Conservative MP has said the government could save taxpayers millions by putting people with Down’s syndrome into work.
Jonathan Gullis, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, made the comments at an event on levelling-up at the Conservative party conference.
Citing a video he had seen on Facebook, Gullis talked about a US man with Down’s syndrome who had worked at McDonalds “for 30 years” and had had “the happiest life”.
“When you see those videos on Facebook, for example, of people with Down’s syndrome working in McDonald’s - there was that guy in America for thirty years at this one chain,” the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North said.
“Some people are like 'oh, McDonald’s…' - but that young man has had the happiest life you can imagine,” he said. “He’s enjoyed going to work everyday.”
He said there were significant “mental health benefits and physical health benefits” when people with Down’s syndrome are in work - and that it also saved the taxpayer money.
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“I know it sounds crude to talk about money terms, but it costs the state £3m on average over the course of the lifetime of an individual with something like Down’s syndrome to support them,” he said.
“If they’re in work and supported, it costs £1m.
“So that instantly is saving money while improving the mental health and life chances of that individual – it shows the power that can be done.”
His comments came in response to a question by Yahoo News UK on what levelling up means for people who are unable to work.
Gullis, who is deaf in one ear, also made comments about schemes at his hometown constituency in Stratford on Avon, which he praised for getting disabled people into work.
“There’s a great scheme in Warwickshire, when I was growing up. Warwickshire County Council realised that out of all those that having learning needs or disabilities 75% could work, or were able to work,” he said.
“Yet only 5% were in work. So what they did do? They brokered conversations between businesses.
"They had council officers offer support to businesses on how to understand what that learning need or disability is."
Levelling up has become a key theme of the Boris Johnson's leadership, though critics say it is ill-defined and has yet to be understood by the public.
The PM will use his keynote speech at the Tory conference on Wednesday to argue that by boosting “left behind” parts of the country it will ease pressure on the “overheating” south-east of England.
That will result, he will say, in levelling up the country and moving “towards a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy that the people of this country need and deserve, in which everyone can take pride in their work and the quality of their work".
His comments come against a backdrop of a supply chain crisis, labour shortage, and warnings of empty shelves in shops at Christmas.
A £20 benefit uplift that was introduced at the start of the coronavirus pandemic ended on Wednesday, leaving recipients of Universal Credit £1,040 worse off a year.
Many disability campaigners have railed against the cut, arguing it will push some of the most vulnerable in society into even greater hardship and poverty.
Gullis served as a Conservative councillor in the Shipston ward of Stratford upon Avon, and in 2019 he became the first Conservative MP for Stoke-on Trent North – unseating prominent former Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth.
His victory made him one of the new, 2019 cohort of Conservative MPs that punched holes in the so-called “Red Wall” of former Labour heartlands.
In a letter by the Common Sense Group of Conservative MPs published in the Telegraph in 2020, Gullis criticised the National Trust’s decisions to include explaining its properties’ links to colonialism and historic slavery.
The letter said the National Trust was being “coloured by cultural Marxist dogma, colloquially known as the ‘woke agenda’".
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