Kit HaringtonGame of Thrones star Kit Harington has spoken out about the importance of raising awareness of learning disabilities issues for Learning Disability Week.

Harington, whose character Jon Snow is a fan favourite in the award-winning Game of Thrones TV series, spoke out as his cousin, Laurent, with whom he has a close friendship, has Down’s syndrome.

“My cousin Laurent and I are similar ages and grew up together sharing many things, the same sense of humour and the same passion for film and theatre being chief among them,” said Harington. “We had a wonderful loving upbringing in the same family and had a great time growing up, many times under the same roof and became close friends as well as cousins. My only major difference with Laurent is that he has Down’s syndrome.

“My cousin is one of the 1.4 million people in the UK with a learning disability. From spending time with Laurent and Mencap and being witness to the work they have done together, I know there is still a long way to go before people with a learning disability are treated as equals in our society. From finding it harder to get into work, being victims of hate crime, or receiving poorer quality of healthcare, society has a responsibility to help remove these challenges.

“Many of the obstacles like these that my cousin faces are due to people feeling uncomfortable around disability and afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and therefore ignoring and turning a blind eye to these issues. Whilst this is in some ways understandable, it is also ridiculous.

“Learning Disability Week is the perfect opportunity to challenge this. We need to give people a far greater awareness and understanding of what learning disability means. That's exactly what Mencap wants to achieve with this year’s Learning Disability Week and why I'm asking as many people as possible to get involved.”

Throughout Learning Disability Week Mencap want to challenge the myths about learning disability that fuel prejudice and discrimination, while giving people an insight to some of the challenges faced by people with a learning disability.

The inequalities affecting people with a learning disability include:

1,200 people with a learning disability die avoidably every year in the NHS

Pupils with special educational needs are eight times more likely to be permanently excluded than their peers who do not have these needs

Just 7% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment

56% of disabled people say they have experienced hostility, aggression or violence from a stranger because of their condition or impairment.