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Praise for minister who said agoraphobia stopped him being in pre-Budget photo

By PA News

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The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has been praised for his openness after he revealed that agoraphobia prevented him from featuring in the traditional pre-Budget photograph with the Chancellor.

Simon Clarke tweeted that the condition “prevents me being comfortable in some open spaces” and so he would not take part in the shots outside No 11 Downing Street.

The Treasury ministerial team is ritually photographed together outside the famous black door while the Chancellor holds up their Budget red box before the Commons fiscal speech.

The photograph has on occasion, including in March before Rishi Sunak’s spring speech, been taken inside Downing Street.

But Mr Clarke, tweeting an indoor photo of him alongside Mr Sunak on Wednesday, said he would be absent from the autumn photo because it was due to be taken in the street.

“Really looking forward to explaining the Budget and SR (Spending Review) alongside the Chancellor,” he said on social media.

“I won’t be outside for the photos in Downing Street as I live with agoraphobia – which prevents me being comfortable in some open spaces – but will be busy in Parliament and out in the country over the coming days.

“Today is all about a major moment for the UK and we have an important story to tell about investment in our public services and infrastructure, economic recovery, levelling up and net zero – those are the issues I’m proud to be discussing today.”

Charity Anxiety UK praised Mr Clarke and said it hopes “his openness encourages more people to talk about their mental health in a frank and supportive way”.

The pre-speech photo before the Budget in March was taken inside Downing Street (Toby Melville/PA)
The pre-speech photo before the Budget in March was taken inside Downing Street (Toby Melville/PA)

A spokesman said: “Living with agoraphobia, like any anxiety condition, can be extremely debilitating and it is a very complex phobia, usually manifesting itself as a collection of interlinked conditions.

“Most commonly it is defined by fear of leaving a ‘safe’ place, usually the home.

“The severity of agoraphobia varies enormously from those who are housebound, even room-bound, to those who can travel specific distances within a defined boundary.

“Some agoraphobics find they can travel more easily if they have a trusted friend or family member accompanying them; however, this can quickly lead to dependency on their carer.”

The charity offers a range of support services for people living with phobias.

Mr Clarke was promoted to Chief Secretary in Boris Johnson’s September reshuffle.

He had previously been a local government minister but resigned in 2020, citing personal reasons understood to relate to his family life.

Before his local government post, the Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland had previously been exchequer secretary to the Treasury.

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