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The study, published by the Activity Alliance and entitled The Activity Trap, found that whilst four out of five people surveyed said that they would like to be more active, 47% said that they were worried they would lose their benefits if they took more exercise.
One participant with limb impairment told the study:
“I have a lot of concerns when it comes to benefits and the constant fear of them being taken away or worry of being reassessed. It then impacts my life and any involvement in sport and physical activity which is none at the moment due to the concerns I have and not wanting my benefits to be taken off me.”
Whilst Carly Tait, a former wheelchair athlete who has cerebral palsy, told the study:
“Sport is not just a confidence booster. It helps you adapt to the strains of a disability. It helps with pain. It helps minimise injures. It does a lot more than just show you’re capable of something.”
However, in 2016, as Carly was preparing for the Olympic Games in Rio, she was told she would lose her disability car following a reassessment for Personal Independence Payments (PIP):
“The fact of the matter is, without the car I cannot walk far. I cannot go to work. I cannot go to training. I cannot go shopping for food. I can’t do anything.
I couldn’t believe it. I was absolutely sickened. I was quite desperate as well, because I thought if in two weeks they take that car I’m not going to go to Rio, I’m not even going to be able to get out the house.”
Changes made when the government replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – then the main benefit for disabled people – with Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2013, meant that many people were no longer eligible for a Motability vehicle.
Furthermore, the number of players in the largest league for disabled footballers in England has almost halved in the large three years since changes to the benefits system were implemented.
Alan Ringland, the Chairman and Coach of The Birmingham Ability Counts League, told the Huff Post:
“I’ve seen players who have lost their PIP and aren’t able to attend anymore. When you see them again you see that they’ve not been as active as they were, often they have put on weight and over time their health may deteriorate.
“Playing football on a Sunday was one day where they really enjoyed themselves and if they don’t take part anymore they can lose confidence, friendships, and the camaraderie that goes with that.”
Government statistics show that by October 2017, almost a million disabled people had been reassessed for benefits under the new PIP regime. Of these, 47% received a lower level of benefits than they’d been receiving on DLA, or were told that they were not eligible for PIP at all.
“The assessor ticked the box “can stand and then move using an aid or appliance more than 20 metres but no more than 50 metres”. I [told] the assessor that I could just about walk the 5 metres to the end of my front garden and back (so 10 metres in all).”
One participant in the Dwarf Sports Association study said:
“I’m always afraid of doing too much as it could have a negative impact on my disability benefits entitlement. This is partly from the forms, but also because I had a friend who tried doing a little more than I do now, to try and help with her pain management, and they took away half her benefits and told her she was capable of going to work as she was capable of doing so much exercise – despite her having regular fits etc.!
She was told that to stand any chance of getting them back she’d have to give up all but one class and maintain that level for six months. You’d think we’d be encouraged to reduce pain using non-medication routes, but apparently not!”
The study notes that disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive as non-disabled people. But 83% said they’d like to be more active, and 55% said they’d be likely to be more active if they didn’t risk losing their benefits.
Public Health England has a goal of ‘getting every adult active every day’. But as long as disabled people fear – with good reason – that they might lose their benefits if they do become more active, that goal is just pie in the sky.