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Special Report: Our Society’s ‘Non-Human’ Population – A National Scandal Ignored

Hardeep Matharu, Editor of Byline Times, explains why the May 2024 print edition focuses on the denial of human rights and basic care to people with learning disabilities

Connor Sparrowhawk – who had autism, a learning disability and epilepsy – drowned in a bath in an NHS unit in 2013 following an epileptic seizure with no care staff present. Photo: Sara Ryan

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There are so many other things our politicians and media would rather focus on. 

The colours of the St George’s flag on a football kit. The scones served in the cafés of the National Trust. The flights that need to take off to stop the boats. The ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ that are the sole focus in the national crisis of child sexual abuse.

Approximately 1.5 million people in this country have a learning disability. When do we ever hear about them?

We hear about them when there is momentary exposure of the horrific reality they face in securing their basic rights and care. 

A scandal broadcast on Panorama. A beautiful young man losing his life for no reason at all. 

But, as Sara Ryan, Connor Sparrowhawk’s mother, points out in the May 2024 print edition of Byline Times, the scandal is too shocking; too close to us. To what it means to be a human and vulnerable, and to be vulnerable to other humans not valuing your life enough.  

So we quickly look away. The media cycle moves on. Politicians utter their broken promises. 

But the lives of our fellow human beings, who are consistently being failed, are the lives of those human beings. Their everyday lives. Just like all of our everyday lives

Read our exclusive special report by Saba Salman, Stephen Unwin, Sara Ryan, Dr George Julian and Ramandeep Kaur into the ignored national scandal of our society’s ‘non-human’ population in the May 2024 edition of Byline Times. Available as a digital edition by online subscription now, or in stores and newsagents from 23 April

One of my biggest senses of achievement with what Byline Times has accomplished in the past five years, is the spotlight it has been able to throw, in new ways, on how people with disabilities are treated. 

This special report has been a long time in the making and the opening of a new play, Laughing Boy, exploring the life and death of Connor Sparrowhawk, has provided an apt opportunity to bring together this newspaper’s work on this area. Do go and see it if you get the chance. 

Because the fact is that all the evidence points to one thing: that some of our fellow human beings are treated as less than human by the systems of politics and culture that surround them.

And so there is a shocking conclusion we must all confront: in the 21st Century, we are happy to tolerate a society in which part of our population is seen and treated as non-human. What does that say about us? 

By dehumanising them, we dehumanise ourselves. It is a national scandal we ignore to our shame and harm.

‘Laughing Boy’ by Stephen Unwin, adapted from ‘Justice for Laughing Boy: Connor Sparrowhawk – A Death by Indifference’ by Sara Ryan, runs from 25 April to 31 May at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre; and from 4 to 8 June at the Theatre Royal Bath

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